We’re all familiar with the standard pre-flight safety message reminding us to ‘fit your own mask first before assisting others’. This is for a very good reason; you simply can’t help anyone else if you’re unconscious! Effective leaders know this principle applies to leadership as well and is why I dedicated a whole chapter to this topic in my book Career Conversations, how to get the best from your talent pool (Wiley, 2019).
Authentic leaders know what they stand for and are skilled in communicating it to others. They have a deep understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, attributes, skills and behavioural competencies, career drivers and values and are often described as being ‘comfortable in their own skin’. The better you know yourself the more help you will be to others in charting their development. Secure leaders are better equipped to recognise potential in others because they are able to see beyond existing capabilities and foresee what could be as well as what is.
Be proactive with employee development and build organisational capability
Building employee capability is a fundamental leadership responsibility. It prepares the organisation for future growth and success and helps to avoid limitations due to human resourcing deficits. Leaders with strong self-insights are adept in identifying and developing their future leaders as well as their current ones. They support and encourage leaders in waiting, nurturing their professional growth. Effective leaders take a proactive and genuine interest in their employee’s development and careers.
These leaders make it their business to understand their employees’ needs and how these may change over time. They have a knack of instantly putting others at ease and are skilled in being able to connect with employees at all levels and prioritise this into their daily routine. They don’t let pressing workloads or deadlines compromise this activity or push it down their priority list. They intuitively know how important it is for their employees’ wellbeing, growth, job satisfaction and success and in turn their organisation’s success.
Soft skills in the new reality
Considerable attention of late has been given to the growing importance of soft skills for leaders.
The truth is that soft skills have always been critical to successful leadership however, there’s no doubt with the accelerating pace of technological change this is set to intensify. A recent report by Deloitte, ‘The path to prosperity’, predicts that of all new jobs created 86% will be knowledge worker jobs and two-thirds of jobs will require a high degree of soft skills by 2030. When combined with rise of the gig/sharing economy the employment landscape we know today is being reshaped and a new reality for the future of jobs and careers is emerging. This can be seen with the continuing evolution of organisations such as Uber, Airbnb and Airtasker to name a few recalibrating employment market norms.
The need to connect with employees and build highly functional organisational and individual relationships is the hallmark of leaders with a high degree of self-awareness where Emotional intelligence (EQ) competencies are foundational. EQ, popularised by author and Psychologist Daniel Goleman 25 years ago, provides a highly useful leader’s framework for the development and application of soft skills. Goleman clustered the EQ competencies into Self-awareness, Self-management, Social awareness and Relationship management. EQ helps leaders to enhance their communications with employees and contributes to building trust and positive employee connections. Self-disclosure is another powerful aid effective leaders use to build trust, empathy and help others learn from their experiences. It can help normalise fears, concerns and overcome self-doubt. However knowing when its use is and is not appropriate and avoiding over use requires a high level of self-awareness and relationship management skills. Great leaders do this effortlessly!
Commit and make a start today
The best (and only) place to start in becoming an exceptional leader is by ‘fitting your own mask first’. You’re bound to find it an insightful, rewarding and satisfying experience where your employees will grow and benefit from your enhanced self-insight and appreciate just how much your leadership can bring to their development and enjoyment of work. Everyone is a winner!
Written by Greg Smith.
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