These 5 Soft Skills Are Crucial For Leadership Success

When you’re heading up a team, soft skills matter just as much as your technical prowess—here are the top 5 skills you need for success

There’s no denying that ‘soft’ skills matter in the workplace.

In GMAC’s latest employability survey for example, skills like being able to work with a variety of people, think critically, and manage a demanding workload, were highlighted as the most important a professional could have. 

But which soft skills will help you be a better leader?

To find out, we spoke to Aarti Ramaswami,  Academic Director of the ESSEC Global MBA, Management Professor and Deputy Dean of ESSEC Business School’s Asia-Pacific campus, and Patti Brown, Director of the ESSEC Global MBA.

1. Empathy

According to Aarti and Patti, empathy is vital for successful leadership.

“One of the most important skills you can develop at business school is being an empathetic leader,” Patti (right) says.8f48273090ccdce3dbc068ba4a58d5d4b15de187.jpg

On ESSEC’s Global MBA program, for instance, participants have the chance to develop this particular skill early on, through regular personal branding and development workshops. Here, they’re encouraged to open up about personal strengths and weaknesses, so they can better understand themselves and each other.

“Sometimes there are tears,” Patti says, “everyone really opens up, and this creates empathy.”

Aarti (below) agrees that this emotional intelligence is crucial for leaders. “Having empathy, humility, and even a bit of vulnerability, are key drivers for good communication and connection,” she explains.

Being able to connect on this personal level, and understand the needs of your team, will make you a better leader, the pair conclude.

2. Communication

It may sound cliché by now, but being able to communicate effectively is another essential soft skill. 5917199945cbef0d7102d0fefcf55c324d383d5e.jpgWhether it’s delivering presentations or writing a persuasive report, being able to communicate in an engaging, understandable way is important for any leadership role.

To improve your communication skills, Patti recommends remaining humble, and learning to listen. An MBA is one way to hone these skills.

“If you want to get projects and group work done, you’ll need to have those listening skills,” she explains.

Being able to communicate with people from a range of different backgrounds is another aspect of this skill that you should bear in mind. 

Because of the diverse group MBA programs tend to attract, participants are well set to learn this particular skill. On ESSEC’s Global MBA, for example, roughly 85% of each cohort is international.

3. Motivating a team

For Patti, learning how to motivate a team is one of the most challenging—and important— skills you can have as a leader.

Through frequent group work, MBA programs can teach participants to do this in a hands-on way, she explains, motivating each other to complete projects on time, to the best of everyone’s ability. 

This skill is highly sought after in today’s employment landscape. One Gallup survey revealed that only 20% of employees felt motivated by their manager to do their best work. 

Since motivation is key to overall job performance, today’s employers are keen to hire MBAs who can bring this energy to the workplace.

Aarti cautions that there’s no one-size-fits-all leadership style, though.

“Every participant’s leadership journey will be quite distinct from that of their classmates,” she says.

4. Accountability 

For today’s business leaders, an awareness of how your decisions can impact the world around you is also vital.

“Life is full of trade-offs,” Aarti explains. “Knowing when and what kind of tradeoffs to make will enable graduates to make good decisions, and live with the consequences of those decisions.” 

Patti agrees that leading with an eye on sustainability is essential for future leaders.

“Participants who want to work in leadership roles need to know about every aspect of sustainable business,” she says. “These initiatives are everywhere, so it’s about being prepared for the future.”

At ESSEC, Patti notes, sustainability is deeply integrated into the Global MBA program, both in and out of the classroom. 

From the beginning of the program, a sustainability workshop is an important part of integration week, during which participants learn about how the consulting and fashion industries can be made more sustainable.

Participants from the Luxury Brand Management major also have the chance to attend the annual Circular Fashion Summit at Station F, Paris’ startup hub. 

The summit presents new advances in sustainable fashion, from biodegradable cotton to using blockchain technology to trace a garment’s origin.

Keeping an eye on initiatives like these will help MBAs be leaders in a business landscape that emphasizes sustainability. 

5. Networking

In the FT’s skills gap survey, effective networking ranked among the top five skills that employers look for in their hires—and for good reason.

Leaders who network effectively can build and maintain mutually useful, meaningful connections. Networking isn’t as easy as it might appear though, Patti notes.

When participants first enter the Global MBA at ESSEC, they are often unsure how to introduce themselves, join a conversation, and follow up, she explains.

To help, the school offers personal coaching, and networking events where participants can put their new skills into practice.

“Once a month we organize a networking dinner for participants and industry leaders.” Patti reports. These professionals are brought in from sectors and functions that each year's participants want to work in specifically.