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Partnerships and Building Relationships / Staff Leadership and Management

A Case For That Softer Side Of Leadership

team members with arms around each other

When we talk about leadership, and the skills needed to be an effective leader (which is a different conversation than what it means to effectively manage a team or project), we’ve only recently started to give proper space and focus around Emotional Intelligence and some of the “softer” skills that go into impactful and transformative leadership.

But, what exactly is the softer side?

Well, it’s the human side.

More to the point: it’s the human-connecting-to-another-human side.

There are a lot of (valid) arguments against the softer side of leadership—arguments that point to the inefficiencies of indulging every team member’s personal woes and professional grievances and relationship status’ and kid stories. Arguments that say “We’re here to get a job done, so let’s get the job done. Period.” Arguments that would implore us to see leadership as the singular task of moving the team toward the stated finish line—whether that’s revenue-based, product-based, or service-based.

And I get it, I do.

team working togetherIf we spent every staff meeting checking in with depth and detail about how we are all feeling and what’s new in all of our lives, our meetings could easily be consumed by only that. Because let’s face it, there is a lot going on with each of us at any given moment, pandemic or not. The answer to the question “How are you?” might very well be “How much time do you have? Pull up a chair and I’ll put on a pot of coffee and tell you all about it”

But the flip side of that is to not check in at all. To never ask. To never indulge in the personal story, the venting gripe, the trivial banter of the proverbial water cooler.

And that’s no good either.

Because even our most basic understanding of the laws of opposites will tell us that a lack of connection leads to an increase in dis-connection.

And disconnection? Well, disconnection leads to discontent. And discontent leads to isolation. And isolation breeds resentment, despair, and a narrow vision of reality.

coworkers collaboratingAnd I’m pretty sure you don’t need an MBA to know that a team of discontenteds is not going to exactly propel you toward your finish line. Well, you might still get there, but dang is it going to be a trudging slough.

So you can scoff and roll your eyes all you want (but if you are grumbling about this, you might want to take a detour right here and spend some time in intentional self-awareness), but this soft stuff is an important part of effective leadership. It just is.

I would like to offer you this simple question to ask yourself each day, or each week, to shift your mindset in this direction:

How am I b.u.i.l.d-ing my team today?
B: Believe

Do you truly trust in the abilities of your team, the possibilities available for your project, the opportunities designed to nurture growth? Belief matters.

How many stories of mentors, leaders, and those that left an impact on our lives begin with “S/he believed in me…”?

U: Understand

Stephen Covey urged us to “seek first to understand rather than to be understood,” and boy do I get that one wrong all the time. Because I want you to UNDERSTAND WHERE I’M COMING FROM and also WHY I HAVE IT SO HARD. Working hard on being understood is just a stubborn-headed way to clutch tightly to your “rightness.”

As a leader your job is to seek understanding first. Seek to understand. What do they need/feel/believe/want, and why do they need/feel/believe/want those things?

I: Inspire

Doing a job because we’re told we have to do the job is fine. But doing a job because we believe in the mission and purpose of the job? Because we see how our efforts are part of a greater whole? Well, that’s a freaking miracle. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to believe I’m making some small measure of difference in this world, even my tiny corner of it. I’d like to think that something I do matters, even to one person.

As a leader, are you just checking off tasks, or are you inspiring your team toward the greater vision?

L: Love

Oh, love them. And don’t take my word for it! All the Very Important People are saying it too—love is the way to staff engagement, productivity, retention, growth, success. If you don’t love them in the active agape sense, they won’t love you—and by extension, the work. And they won’t go above and beyond. They won’t lift an extra finger for you or their teammates. And they won’t stay.

Humans want to feel loved (seen, heard, and valued) in every meaningful relationship, and of course that includes work relationships because many of us spend more time in any given day with our work relationships than any other.

D: Demonstrate

Get out from behind your desk. Step around your cubicle. Open your office door. Roll up your sleeves. Work late if they have to. Get in early if they are, too. Be the first to volunteer.

Be the kind of leader that they can always find, because you are right there beside them.

The softer side of leadership might feel… well, all soft and squishy. It’s kind of intangible and therefore hard to contain in a spreadsheet or put on a flowchart.

But it’s how we remember people.

It’s how we talk about leaders who impacted us.

As a leader, how will you b.u.i.l.d your team today?

For breakfast, I had lots of coffee.

Author: @erikap

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