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!”