Why Leaders Need People Skills

To lead effectively, you must be able to connect and communicate your agenda to others.

By John Baldoni
Wed, April 16, 2008

CIO — Compassion. Candor. Transparency. A focus on family.

Twenty years ago such attributes would've been seen as a drag on a corporate chieftain's rise to the top. Today, business leaders who possess these qualities are celebrated for them in the media by the likes of Fast Company, Business Week and Fortune.

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So what's going on? Is American business going soft? Are its corporate executives turning from hard-edged and dispassionate analytic types to warm, outgoing people persons? Not quite.

Top executives are instead returning to a most fundamental tenet of leadership: the ability to connect with others in order to build trust and effectively lead in times of great challenge and change. Call it the people-skills revolution.

Attributes Leaders Need

The annual Harris Online/Wall Street Journal poll cites MBA recruiters as valuing candidates with strong communication and people skills. However, so often we see people promoted into management who have personalities ill-suited to working with others, let alone managing or leading them. The boom in executive coaching attests to the need for cultivating leaders with strong people skills.

So what kind of people skills do CIOs and other executives need to display? Psychologist Daniel Goleman, a noted academic and author, promulgated the concept of emotional intelligence more than a decade ago. Goleman defined a leader's "emotional quotient," or EQ, as being a blend of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Leaders with an EQ knew themselves, exercised self-control, could motivate themselves, were empathetic, and had good people skills. All of these characteristics combine to round out a leader as one with assuredness, confidence and likability. So what do you need to do to develop those attributes?

Assuredness. Too little attention is paid to managers who know themselves and their abilities. But if you have ever worked with someone who is tentative and uncertain, you know the headaches this causes. People get frustrated as deadlines are missed due to "do-overs" of "do-overs."

Contrast this with a neatly humming department or business unit that knows what is required and consistently performs according to objective. Most often, the person in charge is one who values her people, knows them, and creates conditions and opportunities for them to succeed. As a manager, you develop your own assuredness by doing your work but also by empowering others to do theirs.

Confidence. You can consider confidence an outward reflection of assuredness. If you are secure in your estimation of your skills, you project a sense of capableness that makes others comfortable. Leaders must project confidence because it is what others expect. When we are led by another we want to have faith that the individual can do what he claims he can do. When that faith is backed by example and, better yet, by capable action, then confidence is compounded by leaders and followers together.

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