Why Soft Skills are Really Critical Skills Leaders Need to be Successful

I’ve been working with a group of high-tech leaders the past few months helping them improve their interpersonal skills, or as they’re often referred to, their “soft skills.” 

It’s ironic that these skills were ever labeled “soft” because if you’ve ever dealt with difficult, emotionally charged situations at work or home, then you know how hard it can feel to manage them. If you’re a leader in the workplace, perhaps you’ve found yourself trying to:

•manage an ongoing conflict between two employees, or

•navigate a difficult feedback conversation with a direct report, or

•motivate a newly formed team to execute a significant organizational change that  employees are resisting at every turn.

Those are just a few workplace situations where leaders rely on their “soft skills” to navigate all kinds of emotions (fear, anger, frustration, etc.) that are part of uncomfortable conversations.

Let’s drop the “soft skills” label and acknowledge that they are CRITICAL skills that leaders need to succeed, especially in hard, challenging situations. These skills, and the competencies within each one, are all components of Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional intelligence, or EQ or EI as it is commonly referred to, is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others. It’s about your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.

EQ is made up of four core skills, and each one plays a critical role in the ability for anyone, especially leaders, to be successful. The four core skills are:

1. Self-Awareness. This is the ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen. Leaders who have this skill recognize when they feel anxious or stressed; then, they’re able to understand not only what they were feeling but also why they’re feeling the way they do.

Getting specific about your emotions is one of the best ways to overcome negative thoughts when you’re feeling stressed. Being aware of the “why” behind your emotions gives you control over how you want to respond. Without awareness of your emotions, you can’t manage them.

2. Self-Management. This is the ability to use your awareness of your emotions (what you’re feeling) and pause before automatically responding. Self-management influences how you deal with the hard part of difficult situations, like managing fear or nervousness. Being able to manage your emotions keeps you from acting impulsively in ways you may regret.  

3. Social Awareness. This is the ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people. One big source of stress at work is a conflict with others, especially when conflicts aren’t handled with sensitivity. When faced with high-stakes conflicts, leaders who empathize with others and try to understand their perspectives, are far more successful at resolving them.

4. Relationship Management. This is the ability to use awareness of your emotions and others’ to better manage situations involving people. Relationship management skills are essential in navigating the emotional complexities of difficult conversations, like sharing tough news, making unpopular company changes that affect many employees, or giving constructive feedback to someone who is not open to receiving it.

All of these skills can be learned! Unlike your IQ, which is fairly set at birth, you can develop your EQ, which will help you recognize and understand emotions in yourself and in others, and strengthen your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and your relationships.

Without EQ skills, it’s much harder for anyone to resolve conflicts, motivate others, or manage their own emotions during times of uncertainty and change.

There is a lot of research on the importance of EQ skills in the workplace. TalentSmart is one company that has tested more than a million people and found that the group of highest performers is filled with people who are high in emotional intelligence (90% of top performers, to be exact).In today’s workplace, it’s expected that leaders have a high IQ; however, leaders who have a high IQ and a high EQ, are far more successful. They lead with unshakable confidence, handle conflicts with ease, and inspire others to do what needs to be done.

So, how do leaders develop these critical EQ skills?

Ideally, leaders learn these skills from a mentor they get to observe handling challenging situations, from delivering unpopular news to managing their own emotions under stress.

There are many books and courses that explain what emotional intelligence is through case studies, etc., but applying knowledge into one’s real world can be challenging when attempting to master skills involving emotions.

Working with a coach who is trained in EQ is a very effective and efficient way to learn EQ skills. Through knowledge sharing, EQ assessments, tools, and feedback, a coach can guide and support the development of these essential skills.  

If you want to be a leader with higher EQ, who can manage all kinds of complicated, emotionally charged situations, build high-trust relationships, and create work cultures that thrive, then I invite you to schedule a complimentary call with me by clicking here. I am certified to teach EQ skills and competencies. Together, we can figure out if I can help you. At a minimum, I’ll be able to recommend some reasonable next steps for you. I promise you that the call will be well worth your time.  


Jennell Evans, MA, CMMI | 
Leadership | Emotional Intelligence | Mindfulness | Advisor & Speaker