Balancing the tension between soft-skills… and “wishy-washy” leadership

Last week, we led a week-long in-person workshop with the department objective(s) of team building, better working in a hybrid world and how to do that all while navigating multiple generations.

So, we went back to the basics. (Which, really, are not so basic). We focused on leading yourself and communication.

We’ll share more about what we learned in the weeks to come, but what’s sitting with us the most right now is how many people associate “soft” skills – (we prefer critical skills, people skills, human skills or even better, power skills) with – and we quote – “wishy washy leadership.”

Wishy-washy leadership, in this instance, was described as the inability to appease the team and make tough decisions. As in, there’s a direct tension between the two of them.

Here’s the gist (and consensus) of what we heard:

To build trust and psychological safety, you must master the soft skills. But… If you master the soft skills, you’ll coddle employees. And a leader who coddles employees is a leader who struggles to make tough decisions.

It’s a lot to unpack, we know. And a lot to debunk.

What we explained to them and hope it resonates with you:

So often when we think of a “decisive leader,” we think dictator. But most of us can probably agree that’s not really what we are looking for in a leader.

Ideal situation here is someone who can balance making tough decisions with the appropriate communication. Different situations will warrant different decisions AND communication. A strong leader knows how to assess which situation requires what, and how to best communicate it.

Some decisions will warrant or be appropriate to reach a team consensus. That might look like, “Here’s what we need to accomplish, what do we think is the best approach?”
Some will come from the top-down, in which the leader has no say but to implement.

In a poor leader: that news might sound like “here’s how we’re moving forward. No ifs, ands or buts.”

In an emotionally intelligent leader: it might sounds more like this — “here’s how we’re moving forward, and I want to make sure that I’m answering as many of the questions you have as possible.”

Same situation. Big difference in approach. It’s those little shifts in communication that build trust.

Not so basic after all, is it?

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