Leadership: Leveraging Your Soft Skills

Guest post by Lisa Sasso:
Soft skills can make or break you as a leader; they are clearly more important to a leader than any hard skill.  This is a basic truth I learned early on in my business career, and it has sustained me throughout a succession of leadership roles — right up to my present work as an executive coach.
  
I first became aware of the need for soft skills when I was a Tupperware Executive Manager, teaching members of my team about the products, how to best present the line and explaining how effective use could make customers’ lives more efficient.  My team members easily grasped these concepts, and I always made sure they were well versed to answer almost any customer question.

Nevertheless, I found that I was spending most of my time working with them on the softer skills.  Before I knew it, my role became that of a coach, inspiring them to give their best, teaching them how to be customer-focused, understand their customers’ needs, wants and desires, and demonstrating how to present, motivate and engage the customer.  Also, how to potentially transform an excited customer into a recruit for the team.

Tupperware was where I learned how recognition can be an important motivator.  With hindsight, I now see that I hadn’t realized just how important recognition for my own accomplishments was to me.  I knew it felt good, and now I saw first-hand how Tupperware effectively used recognition to motivate and retain quality consultants and managers.

Leaders of today have a bigger challenge, given the diversity of modern-day teams.  While teamwork had been important with my Tupperware team, my leadership skills were really put to the test when I took on the responsibility for all Sales and Clinical teams at Radi Medical Systems (Radi).  I could screen candidates for product knowledge and aptitude (candidates had to demonstrate they could sell the product and take an online test to prove that they could interpret the technology and explain how it was used), but figuring out if they had the right values, were a good fit with the other members of the team, and knowing what I would need to do to motivate them appropriately was complex.

In my dual role as President/CEO and first sales representative, my goal was to generate revenue one customer at a time.  Within five years, the company had nearly 50 employees, 30 of whom were in the field, with revenue approaching $28M.  Dealing with the explosive triple-digit growth forced me to relinquish my “lead by example” sales role and instead lead differently.  By setting the company’s mission, vision and values, I used those corporate philosophies as litmus tests in hiring — taking on applicants who aligned with these philosophies. That made us a cohesive and successful team.
 
The takeaway here is that it’s a lot easier to lead a team when everyone is on the same page.  Leaders understand that people make the difference between a good and a great product, and that means hiring the right people must be a #1 priority.  Never settle for just any candidate; make sure they are the right candidate.

It bears repeating:  soft skills can make or break you as a leader; it’s not necessary to master every such skill, but each leader should find those that work for them.  One skill that always stands out in my mind and that I have used successfully is Caring.  There’s a famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt that I’ve always believed to be true: “Nobody will ever care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  Anyone who has ever worked for or with me knows that I put this quote into practice.

In my recently released book, Motivation Now!, I’ve shared the soft skills that are reflections of my approach.  Examples include:
  •          Achieve Now!  Achieving now is about accomplishing things that you want to do.
  •          Celebrate Now!  Reflects the personal touch and how I ran Radi — like a family.
  •          Setting Goals Now!  This is as much a soft as a hard skill, and clearly relevant to leadership.

Leaders are not expected to be everything to everyone, but it is critical that leaders know their strengths and how to leverage (and supplement) them appropriately.  Just being aware of your “Top 5 Strengths” helps you to truly define yourself.  [I recommend completing StrengthsFinder Assessment (SFA).]  Once you know your strengths, you can channel your energies into the things that you do naturally.  This will get you further in life — it’s called building on your strengths.

I’ve found that leadership isn’t a constant — it’s put to the test every day.  As president of the non-profit Medical Development Group of Boston (MDG), I found myself in an environment that required me to make good decisions and speak with authority and passion.  Membership in this group was about as diverse as you can get (age, experience, skills, specialties, etc.).  I found that my passion broke through many of the potential barriers.  Passion is one of my true gifts, and I share it with everyone that I come in contact with.  How you act and how you present yourself are two very important measures of leadership.

If you consider all of the leadership roles I’ve presented above, you will find that all of these positions required use of attentive listening, clear speech, and persuasion.  In the end, I realized that my true calling was to be a coach, and to this day coaching is how I lead.  Leadership can be a lonely road, since a leader’s journey is often fraught with adversity, change and long hours.  But it doesn’t have to be lonely, nor should you feel alone.  Have you ever considered having a coach in your life?

Lisa Sasso, MBA, is a certified executive coach who empowers aspiring leaders and executives to achieve their personal and professional goals, maintain work/life balance, and ultimately reach their greatest potential.  She specializes in coaching medical device professionals and recently published “Motivation Now!”

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