No one succeeds in a vacuum. Looking up and around, taking in the ideas and views of others and integrating them into your planning is the path to achievement, says Hamza Khan, the author of two bestselling books on leadership, resilience, productivity and change.
“I wake up every single day obsessed with the question: How can we best equip leaders to be prepared for the leadership moments well in advance? And how do we help them learn on the job?” Khan says.
One answer, he believes, is those in leadership fine-tuning their soft skills. Khan, who has worked in academia and found his calling in entrepreneurship, co-founded SkillsCamp in 2015 to do just that: teaching those in business leadership roles and educators soft skills.
Soft skills, Khan says, enable leaders to develop open systems that thrive on input instead of closed systems that collapse in on themselves. Open systems welcome feedback from diverse perspectives within and without the organization.
To take an idea to fruition, or lead an organization through growth or change, requires a willingness to dig in—to take a hard look at successes and failures, your company’s culture and morale and to get in sync with the behaviors and expectations of today’s workforce.
Khan follows the model of servant leadership, a philosophy that leadership exists at the bottom to serve the needs of its workers. “How you treat your employees is how they’re going to treat the customers,” Khan says. “And it’s the customers who, when satisfied by that treatment, will ultimately reward the organization.”
Soft skills for those in leadership roles to develop
To tap into the needs of employees, those in leadership need soft skills. Khan says attunement, resilience and creativity (ARC) are the three key areas to develop those soft skills. Together, this “ARC” will form a framework for leaders to cultivate an open, productive and more successful environment. Attunement allows you to identify strengths and weaknesses, while resilience will enable you to accept these and move forward and creativity will spark the solutions.
Here’s what you stand to gain.
Attunement between a team and a leader is key. It combines active listening and communicating, or literally tuning in to the needs of both the working team and the community at large. To apply this soft skill to the workplace, Khan suggests those in leadership roles try a reverse town hall meeting. Ask difficult questions, practice active listening and reinforce communication. Creating a culture of acceptance will ensure that you receive honest answers.
“You can even take that further in structured one-on-ones,” Khan adds. “Ask questions that are difficult for leaders to ask, because we might not like the answers we’re going to receive, but we have to cringe fast and cringe early when seeking these answers. We can ask questions like, ‘Why did you join this organization? Are you happy here? How am I doing as a leader? What could I improve?’”
Allowing space for these answers will reveal blind spots you may have about the organization and opens the door for fixing problems.
While attunement lies with the collective, resilience comes from within. Khan looks at resilience in this context as “the ability to sustain productivity for the long haul.”
The benefits of this trait seem obvious, but being resilient requires looking inward, which is hard work.
Why bother? “Resilience can help to withstand the stress of change,” Khan says, adding that it can also help separate good stress from bad stress, “understanding that not all stress is created equal.”
Many companies falter during periods of change and when they reach maturity. It is here that leaders encounter an inflection point: Renew themselves by changing or, as Khan put it, “tumble into the chasm of time” and lose their relevance. Only resilient leaders, Khan says, can navigate into the future.
Opening lines of communication generates a free flow of information that fuels creativity. Like any other leadership soft skill, creativity can be developed and nurtured—and must be for leaders to create and communicate their vision and for organizations to innovate and thrive.
Creativity can come in many forms. Sometimes, it’s about looking at something from a new perspective. Challenge preconceived ideas and structures, shake up established routines and troubleshoot weak points.
Although it sounds counterintuitive, Khan suggests engineering chaos in the workplace by brainstorming all the pitfalls that can occur and considering options for rectifying them. “You know, organizations are really good at doing post-mortems after the fact, [where you] sit down and talk about why something didn’t work out,” he says. “But what if you did the opposite?”
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by PeopleImages.com – Yuri A/shutterstock.com
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