Written by Contributing Writer, Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.
Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India.
Mikhail Gorbachev, Dalai Lama, and Aung San Sui Kyi, there is a common thread connecting all of them―soft leadership. They are all soft leaders who silently performed and led the people to accomplish their dreams. They have character, charisma, conscience, conviction, courage, communication, compassion, commitment, consistency, and consideration, and contributed extensively to society and made a difference in the lives of others. In this regard, we will discuss and differentiate between soft leadership and soft skills and explore soft leadership to achieve organizational excellence and effectiveness.
What is Soft Leadership?
Various leadership researchers, experts, educators, writers, consultants, and practitioners in the leadership domain have pioneered specific styles and types of leadership. As a result, we have various styles and types of leadership, thus enriching the leadership domain. Similarly, soft leadership is another new perspective adding value to the leadership literature.
Soft leadership is leading through soft skills and people skills. It blends soft skills, hard skills, and leadership. It emphasizes the significance of precious Human Resources. It helps in managing the emotions, egos, and feelings of the people successfully. It focuses on the personality, attitude, and behaviour of the people and calls for making others feel more important.
Soft leadership is not submissive leadership or lame-duck leadership but assertive leadership, where soft leaders adopt pleasing and polite communication to execute their tasks effectively. It is a blend of courageous leadership, thought leadership, servant leadership, and inspirational leadership. Succinctly, soft leadership can be defined as the process of setting goals; influencing people through persuasion; building strong teams; negotiating them with a win-win attitude; respecting their failures; recognizing and appreciating their contribution in accomplishing organizational goals and objectives with an emphasis on soft skills.
Professor M.S. Rao’s 11 C’s and Soft Leadership
Leadership depends on three aspects—how you communicate with others, how you make decisions, and how you take action. When you can execute these three activities effectively, you become a successful leader. However, to evolve as a soft leader, you must communicate with an emphasis on soft skills; make decisions by blending your head, heart, gut, and intuition; and take action keeping the ground realities and goals in your view without compromising task orientation. There are 11 Cs that constitute soft leadership. They are character, charisma, conscience, conviction, courage, communication, compassion, commitment, consistency, consideration, and contribution. It is highly challenging for people to cultivate these 11 characteristics. However, if people possess more than 6 traits, they get into the fold of soft leadership. Here is the diagram (Figure 1) connecting the 11 C’s that collectively constitute soft leadership.
Figure 1 The Eleven Cs of Soft Leadership
How Important are Communication and Connection in Soft Leadership?
Communication is the core of any leadership. In the case of soft leadership, leaders must persuade others to accomplish their goals and objectives. They must resolve if there are any conflicts. Therefore, communication plays a crucial role in soft leadership. Second, the connection is equally important as leaders must connect with their partners and stakeholders. They can connect with others effectively through effective communication. Therefore, both communication and connection are important in soft leadership.
How does Soft Leadership Differ from Soft Skills?
Soft skills are different from soft leadership. Soft skills are people skills, interpersonal skills, and non-domain skills that help people communicate with others effectively and get along well with others easily. In contrast, soft leadership is the ability to lead people with the aid of soft skills to accomplish goals and objectives. Soft skills are based on three aspects—attitude, personality, and behaviour while soft leadership is based on 11Cs—character, charisma, conscience, conviction, courage, communication, compassion, commitment, consistency, consideration, and contribution.
Soft skills are the deciding factor for successful soft leadership. In this cut-throat competitive world, what makes the major difference is your soft skills at the workplace, either as an employee or as a leader. As an employee, you learn to behave well as per the situation, expectations, aspirations, and feelings of others. And as a leader, you get the tasks executed smoothly without inviting any trouble and ill-will among your employees. Hence, soft leadership equips organizations with several advantages for achieving excellence and effectiveness. It helps in transforming the personality, attitude, and behaviour of people. It emphasizes empathy, which is the ability to step into the shoes of the partners and look at the issues objectively to achieve the desired outcomes effectively. Since this style cares for people, it engages employees effectively and minimizes attrition at the workplace as employees can balance their personal and professional life.
Are Soft Skills Characteristics of Soft Leadership?
Soft skills are the basic characteristics of soft leadership. They are the hallmark of soft leadership. They are the foundation on which soft leadership is built. Some 11Cs collectively constitute soft leadership. Soft skills are the infrastructure, while soft leadership is the superstructure. Succinctly, soft skills are a subset of soft leadership.
Soft Leadership is an Ideal Leadership in the Digital Era
Soft leadership helps lead knowledge workers effectively. Previously more manual workers needed various leadership styles. However, in the present rapidly changing digital scenario, knowledge workers need a unique leadership style—a soft leadership style. The knowledge workers are ambitious, intelligent, and tech-savvy. They have different aspirations and expectations than their predecessors. They have an advanced mindset, toolset, and skillset gained through unique professional experiences. So, soft leadership is the ideal style for the digital age.
Currently, the employees are more diverse than ever, and this offers opportunities and threats. Opportunities include creativity and innovation to improve products and services, and threats include looking at differences, not similarities. Hence, we must convert this threat into an opportunity by celebrating diversity in the workplace. It also calls for a unique leadership style that brings employees into one common platform to achieve organizational goals and objectives.
Soft Leadership is the Future of Leadership
Globally, the philosophy of ‘employees first, customers second, and shareholders third’ is gaining momentum. Keeping this philosophy in view, global organizations need leaders who can navigate their organizations through a network of relationships. Presently the days of positional power work less, and referent power works more. Above all, global organizations must be networked, flat, flexible, and diverse. Hence, soft leadership can work for any company and country regardless of its size or budget.
The days of command-and-control leadership don’t work anymore. What works presently is trust-and-track leadership. As the world is changing rapidly, the knowledge, skills, and abilities essential for employees are changing rapidly. The employees are reinventing themselves to keep pace with the rapid changes in technology. Their expectations and aspirations are rising. Hence, leaders at the top must reinvent their leadership styles, tools, and techniques to lead their employees in this digital age. So, exploring soft leadership helps greatly for the leaders to satisfy all stakeholders to achieve organizational excellence and effectiveness. To summarize, soft leadership is the future leadership. This new leadership perspective is essential in the future hi-tech world. To conclude, exploring soft leadership helps immensely achieve organizational excellence and effectiveness and achieve global peace and prosperity.
About The Author:
Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with over forty years of experience and the author of over fifty books including the award-winning ‘See the Light in You’ URL: https://www.amazon.com/See-Light-You-Spiritual-Mindfulness/dp/1949003132. He is a C-Suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision given his multifaceted professional experience including military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications. His vision is to build one million students as global leaders by 2030 URL: http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.com/2014/12/professor-m-s-raos-vision-2030-one_31.html. He has the vision to share his knowledge freely with one billion people globally. He advocates gender equality globally (#HeForShe). He was ranked #1 Thought Leader and Influencer in Entrepreneurship and Business Strategy globally by Thinkers360. https://www.thinkers360.com/top-50-global-thought-leaders-and-influencers-on-business-strategy-december-2020/.