Good people skills translate to good leadership skills.

What qualities do you think make for a successful leader? 

Those who have watched the movie City Slickers may recall the scene where Curly, the trail boss, tells Mitch that the key to success in life is one thing. Modifying Curly’s words, the key to success in leading others is one thing. My research and experience have proven beyond a doubt that there IS one thing separating successful leaders from those that “derail”. That one thing is self-awareness. However, being aware of your strengths and weaknesses is only the first step in a two-step self-awareness process; step two entails taking action by doing something positivewith that knowledge. 

A great place to start is a focus on an oft-overlooked set of core competencies. These are must have leadership skills necessary to avoid career derailment by becoming more confident in and competent with people skills. Researchers and authors refer to these skills as emotional and social intelligence (EQ) competencies. They are imperative to reaching the highest levels of success, but let’s call them what they are—people skills.

World renown leadership author Ken Blanchard zeroed in on one broadly accepted, yet powerful, definition of leadership which is easily understood. He defines leadership as “The capacity to influence others by unleashing the potential and power of people and organizations for the greater good”. Notice what is not in that definition – the title of leadership or the position of leader in the organization/team. Anyone can lead from wherever they are, whether leading a team and/or serving on a team. They simply need to know what the key skills are, and then work on their strengths and weaknesses.

In order to build capacity, influence others, unleash the potential and power of others, while keeping an eye on the prize of the greater good for others, one must know what their own level of people skills is, and how to leverage those talents to enhance and strengthen teams and organizations. These EQ/people skills are improvable skills that help you, the team and the organization to survive and thrive as change envelopes the workplaces. EQ skills are: emotional self-awareness, assertiveness, self-regard, self-actualization, independence, interpersonal relationships, empathy, social responsibility, problem solving, flexibility, reality testing, stress tolerance, impulse control, happiness and optimism. 

So, where does one start on this journey to become more self-aware?

Measuring EQ is the first step on the path towards improving it. Finding a valid and reliable assessment/survey instrument is vital. One highly regarded, widely used and powerful one is the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQi). It is highly recommended that one assesses oneself, while also eliciting feedback from others (bosses, peers, direct reports, others external to the team) using that same instrument. This is commonly referred to as a 360-degree assessment. Many people may have blind spots, and this process serves to highlight those.

From that data, one must develop an action plan that is Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound (i.e., SMART). Finding someone who can and WILL hold you accountable to ensure you are making progress towards improving the skills you wish to focus on is also vital for success. Sharing your results and plan with those that filled it out for you is another important, powerful, yet rarely used step. Be transparent. Thank them for being open and honest with their feedback. Finally, an imperative part of the development journey must entail great coaching to ensure one gets the guidance, feedback and support to continuously improve.

Why are people skills so vital in today’s dynamic and complex workplaces?

A few reasons are: increasing demands and uncertainties, unknown challenges looming, multi-cultural borderless workplaces, technology reliance (or overreliance), and the need for effective leadership while frantically paddling in the swirling white waters of change. Without effective people skills to skillfully bring to bear in the development of others, the leaders, teams and organizations likely never take flight, much less reach the stars.

Scott Graham is experienced and certified leadership consultant, coach, trainer, teacher, assessor, speaker and retired USAF Lt Col. He is currently a leadership faculty for Ohio State University and consultant to Fortune 500 companies. His email is: graham.948@osu.edu.