What Critical Soft Skills Do the Best Leaders All Share?

Why do some leaders achieve dizzying heights of success while others struggle to lift off? According to leaders in multiple fields, the answer comes down to two simple words: soft skills.

While technical expertise and work experience were once the ultimate “must-haves” for leaders (and make no mistake, these qualities are still extremely important), an increasing body of research is demonstrating that once a certain threshold of technical ability and know-how is exceeded, soft skills take over as the number-one factor driving upward success. And these skills affect more than just a leader’s personal success: a number of studies demonstrate that the soft skills of leaders are a major contributing factor to employee engagement, and consequently to organizational productivity and profitability.

mentorSo what soft skills are critical for leaders to have? A recent article from the World Economic Forum offers a new take on the most important leadership-oriented soft skills that go beyond the standard examples of communication and problem-solving. Some of the most valuable ones include the following:

Focused work ethic—Leaders not only need to work hard—by taking initiative and going above and beyond—they also need to know how to work smart. Believe it or not, it’s a true skill to be able to work hard with a sense of purpose and direction, focused on the larger objective of achieving required results; and it’s a skill that great leaders have in common.

Operational leadership—Experts sometimes summarize strong leadership as “vision plus execution.” Having a vision of what to do is important, but it’s nothing without the next step; that is, the ability to marshal the resources to execute that vision.

Strategic worldview—Good leaders understand that strategy is what drives tactics, not the other way around. If the strategy itself is flawed, the quality of the tactics used to achieve it is irrelevant. This means that a major leadership skill involves seeing and understanding the weak points of a strategy, and then working to hone and sharpen it.

Ability to Zoom—Focusing on details one moment and the big picture the next is an important soft skill for leaders to have. Zooming in on a problem helps to determine the root cause, while zooming out allows for a wide view of all possible solutions.

business-womanMultifunctional thinking—Naturally, leaders will have the strongest expertise in their own business functions, but strong leaders know how to see beyond the needs of their own departments to balance the often competing demands of growth versus operational efficiency.

Persistence—The ability to never give up isn’t a personality trait, it’s a skill: one that the best leaders have learned by heart. In business, as in life, it’s inevitable that things will go wrong. When this happens, knowing how to keep going is what makes all the difference.

Influence—Influence always seems like a somewhat intangible skill, but it’s closely related to some of the more familiar soft skills like teamwork and emotional intelligence. Essentially, influence is the skill of persuasion: It is the ability both to convince those in positions of authority to agree to proposals and to motivate employees to willingly participate in executing those proposals.

Proactivity—Going beyond good planning, the skill of proactivity is all about anticipating potential problems before they arise and taking prompt and logical action to address them.

Ability to use team and resources wisely—Achieving more with less is always on the agenda for efficient leaders who know how to avoid or overcome unnecessary obstacles and get the most from their teams and the resources they have available.

Organizational skills—Organizational skills aren’t just for administrators. Similar to the skill of “operational leadership” mentioned earlier, a healthy dose of organizational skills is what allows good leaders to deliver consistent results on time and on budget.


Responsibility—Taking responsibility has long been a hallmark of a great leader: It’s all about doing something when you say you’ll do it, and not making excuses or pointing fingers when things go wrong.

Ability to select the right people—Being able to sense strong performers and people who are the right fit for a team is a soft skill that good leaders work on developing throughout their careers. After all, a leader can only be as effective as his or her team, so ensuring that team is of the best possible caliber is one of the most important skills a leader can have.

Ability to “swim in the deep end”—As leaders advance, there will be moments when they feel completely out of their depth. While this can be stressful, it’s an essential part of progress; strong leaders have therefore learned how to build the survival skills necessary for keeping their heads above water.

Courage in decision-making—Great leaders don’t just make the right decisions, they make them with courage and conviction, often in a limited amount of time.


How to Recognize (and Deal with) 4 Types of Bad Managers

Many studies over the years have shown that the number-one factor affecting employee satisfaction, engagement, and commitment at work is a person’s immediate supervisor. The old saying that people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses, is no exaggeration: as Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton writes (based on Gallup’s decades of research on management), “lousy managers, not lousy benefits, create miserable workplaces.”

So what can HR do to prevent a bad manager’s negative impact on the workforce from costing the company in higher rates of absence, increased turnover, and lower productivity? The first step is to identify the category of “bad boss” the offending manager falls into. Read on for a look at four common types of bad bosses and initial strategies for dealing with their behavior.


  1. The bully

The modus operandi of the bully boss is to intimidate and publicly humiliate employees in order to keep them on task; naturally enough, however, this behavior usually has the complete opposite effect. HR professionals must be especially on the alert for signs that a manager is or is becoming a bully because, if left unchecked, the associated behavior (foul language, verbal outbursts, etc.) can quickly tip over into harassment and outright abuse.


When dealing with a bully boss, the first goal of HR should be to get the individual to recognize and acknowledge his or her inappropriate behavior: some managers truly don’t have any idea that they are coming across as intimidating, while other managers might benefit from external support (a counselor or psychologist) to get to the root of why they’re acting in this way. In addition, HR can play an important role in explaining to the bully boss that it will reflect poorly on him or her if employees leave or are less productive as a result of his or her behavior.


  1. The micromanager

One of the most frustrating types of bad bosses to deal with on a regular basis, the micromanager interferes in the minutiae of his or her employees’ work, leaving staff feeling that their boss doesn’t trust them to do their jobs or doesn’t appropriately recognize their skills and talents. This can quickly lead to low morale within a team, as well as the feeling that there’s no point in taking time and care over tasks as the manager will just redo them anyway.


HR has two methods of attack here: One is to demonstrate to the micromanager, perhaps through HR-led role-playing exercises, the effect that his or her actions have on employees. The other is to ensure that upper management is setting the right example for senior management. Often, a micromanager’s behavior is caused or exacerbated by his or her own bosses, who may expect managers to be involved in all areas of their assignment. HR can help upper management understand that they must hold their subordinates responsible for managing rather than doing.


  1. The workaholic

For many employees, a workaholic boss is the ultimate nightmare: someone who sends an e-mail at 10 pm and expects an immediate response, or who dishes out last-minute assignments and assumes that employees should drop everything, including personal commitments, to stay late to complete them.


In some cases, employees can perceive a manager as a workaholic due to a simple lack of clarity about his or her behavior and expectations. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management cites a story of how employees’ concerns about receiving late-night e-mails from their boss were cleared up when an HR director established that the manager was simply a night owl who preferred to send e-mails late at night before forgetting about them, but didn’t expect a response.

But when managers regularly demand that staff work around the clock, it’s time for an intervention. HR needs to help the workaholic boss understand that working employees into the ground is a huge cost to the company. In these cases, it can be very helpful to have figures on how much it costs to recruit, interview, and train new staff to replace those who have left due to burnout.


  1. The by-the-numbers boss

Also known in HR circles as “the reluctant manager,” the by-the-numbers boss has the opposite problem of the micromanager: rather than being too involved in the work of his or her team, this person is not involved enough. Often introverted, insecure in his or her leadership skills, or lacking in the confidence needed to connect with and motivate a team, this type of manager focuses on the things he or she knows best—reports, analytics, and numbers—and essentially relinquishes power while his or her team drifts without sufficient direction.


It can be tempting for HR to look on the problem of the by-the-numbers boss as a personality issue about which nothing can be done, but in fact, an outside coach, consultant, or mentor can be a big help in developing this manager’s soft skills. Remember that just like any other skill, soft skills can be taught, learned, and practiced if people take them seriously, so a formal training program could make a world of difference to this boss type.


9 Things to Look for in a Performance Management Software System

The changing composition and priorities of today’s workforce have led to a major shift in many traditional HR practices, and perhaps none has changed more than performance management. Raised on the instant responsiveness and fluid give-and-take of digital communications, the next generation of employees is no longer content with an annual performance review. In order to stay engaged and motivated in their work, they want to be able to learn and improve on an ongoing basis, which means that HR departments are having to shift the way that they deliver feedback from an isolated, fixed event to a real-time, continuous system.

In order to help support this agile style of performance management (PM), more companies are turning to PM software, whether as a stand-alone platform or as part of an integrated suite of HR tools. Designed to help HR departments monitor ongoing goals, provide performance review feedback and coaching on a continual basis, and stay up-to-date with compensation information, these technologies are transforming conventional performance management into a more responsive process that’s a better fit for today’s workplace.

However, not all PM systems are created equal. In order to ensure you choose a software solution that will serve your company effectively, here are 10 things you should look for when considering PM software options:


  1. Cloud hosting

A cloud-based PM solution—as opposed to one hosted on in-house servers—is an absolute must for an HR department of any size. Cloud-based options not only allow a system to be accessed online from any desktop or mobile device. They also help to support fluctuating demand with instant scalability and facilitate the upgrade process through automatic downloads of newly released updates.

 cloud computing

  1. User-friendliness

An effective PM system should be easy to use for both HR leaders and non-administrative staff alike. Naturally, this ease of use shouldn’t come at the expense of any essential functionalities, but it’s important to be aware that the more simplified the user interface is and the more intuitive the associated applications are, the easier it will be to integrate the software into your HR processes.


  1. Flexibility

You shouldn’t consider only your needs when weighing your PM software options. Ideally, your chosen solution will dovetail with your performance management processes and will be flexible enough to adapt to any future changes that your organization might want to make, whether they are driven by innovation or compliance.


  1. Personal and organizational alignment

A major trend in HR processes is to align your personal and organizational goals. Today’s employees are not only interested in their own professional development, but they also want to know how they fit into the broader mission of the organization. Likewise, the management wants to know how the goals of its employees can support and drive its own organizational objectives. A good PM solution will help HR leaders to align these goals and ensure that everyone is working toward the same result.

businessman organization

  1. Mobile optimization

Mobile optimization is the name of the game for all sorts of applications, and PM systems are no exception. A mobile-optimized solution allows successes and feedback to be captured anytime and anywhere on a smartphone or tablet (or even offline). This ensures that managers and staff alike can stay connected even when they’re out of the office, and it helps to ensure that nothing gets missed.


  1. Social sharing functionality

A trend that more companies are looking for in a PM solution is social sharing functionality. When employees have the opportunity to encourage and celebrate their colleagues and to share their own achievements, companies can develop a high-performing culture that boosts motivation and morale. Since social media tools are the ideal medium for this type of sharing, it’s important to ensure that your PM software can easily integrate with these platforms.


  1. Powerful analytics functionalities

An effective PM system will go beyond data collection into in-depth data analysis. The idea is that the software should leverage real-time data to help HR gain insight into individual and company performance. Must-have functions include analytics dashboards to view performance trends across teams, consistent and calibrated score ratings to reduce subjectivity, and decision support analytics.


  1. Overall talent management integration

Performance management is just one aspect of an overall talent management strategy. Ideally, a PM solution will be able to seamlessly integrate with other talent processes—including onboarding, learning, and career development opportunities—so that conversations about performance tie in naturally with other critical talent questions.


  1. A trusted vendor

PM software is only as good as the vendors who supply it. Ideally, you’ll want to partner with a trusted and experienced vendor that is ready to optimize its offerings for your organization. Make sure that you confirm in advance how much support your vendor is able to provide before, during, and after system implementation in order to avoid unexpected hidden costs.


A Look at the 4 Key Steps in Workforce Planning

Few things can make or break a business quite like the right talent (or lack thereof). But given the complexity of today’s economy—in which four distinct generations are in the workforce together, globalization is expanding both talent pools and competition for talent, and the number of contingent workers (such as freelancers and independent contractors) is growing—it’s no easy task to ensure that an organization always has the right talent at the right time.


This is where workforce planning comes in. The cornerstone of a successful human resources strategy and one of the most important functions of an effective HR department, workforce planning is all about taking a forward-thinking, proactive approach to talent management by systematically assessing current workforce content and composition and determining what actions are necessary to respond to future labor needs. By making workforce planning into a fully integrated, regular, and thorough process—and not simply an HR exercise—organizations can ensure that they are efficiently staffed according to their business-critical needs and can avoid rushed, reactive measures like panic hiring or layoffs. Furthermore, the usefulness of workforce planning goes beyond simply anticipating employment needs: it can also be a vital tool for improving staff training and development and boosting succession planning efforts.

While there are just about as many different ways to conduct the workforce planning process as there are HR departments, a good workforce plan should be sure to include these four distinct analytical steps:


  1. The supply analysis

Also called the “supply model” or “staffing assessment,” the supply analysis step takes a close and comprehensive look at the organization as it presently exists. To be most effective, the supply analysis should take into account not only the number of current employees and the skills they possess, but also additional factors like workforce demographics and diversity. Demographics in particular could prove to be an important planning element if, for example, the organization has a high percentage of workers nearing retirement or many younger workers with correspondingly higher turnover rates. A supply analysis should also include projections of attrition over the specified planning horizon, as this has a significant impact on the future supply of labor and skill. When complete, the supply analysis should provide the workforce planning team with a detailed picture of what staffing at the organization will look like in the future if no recruiting, training, or outsourcing actions are taken.


  1. The demand analysis

An organization’s present staffing needs are not necessarily, and indeed, not very often, the same as its future staffing needs, which is where the demand analysis comes in. A demand analysis aims to forecast a company’s future workforce composition as informed by a broad range of business issues, including factors like plans for new product lines, expansion into global marketplaces, and anticipated workforce availability. In this step, workforce planners ask key questions like whether the current workforce has (or can acquire with minimal retraining) the necessary skills to perform new duties in the future, whether current employees will remain with the organization as it evolves, and what external pressures will drive demand for the organization’s goods and services and thus impact business decisions. Ultimately, the demand analysis step should provide workforce planners with a solid idea about how many employees will be needed to achieve future business goals and objectives, what skills those employees will need to have, and what the organization will have to do to attract and retain those employees.


  1. The gap analysis

In this step, workforce planners put the supply analysis and the demand analysis together to identify the gaps between what the workforce looks like now and what it will need to look like in the future. A gap analysis typically works with the future scenario that is most likely to occur, but it also includes some contingency planning steps for alternative futures. Again, this is an important way for organizations to avoid unpleasant surprises, smooth out business cycles, and identify and prevent problems before they start. At the end of this step, workforce planners should have identified how many additional employees are needed (and what their requisite skill sets should be), as well as which employees will no longer be needed due to skill set limitations.


  1. The solution analysis

A solution analysis is like a road map to the future: workforce planners identify and develop strategies to close the gaps that were identified during the previous step. A number of different approaches are available to help an organization transform the workforce it has into the workforce it will need, including recruiting, training and retraining, outsourcing, or using contingent staff. All these approaches have different merits and are suited to different needs; ultimately, the selection of the approaches will depend on whether the organization expects its future workplace demands to involve expansion, downsizing, or restructuring.