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Soft skills all great leaders should have

Rachel Farrell, Special to CareerBuilder

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When it comes to great leaders, technical and business prowess are a must. But perhaps more important are the soft skills.

We asked senior-level executives what soft skills they believe all great leaders should have. Do you have what it takes?

"Great leaders are the ones who have foresight and know how to use it. They see the possibilities out there and lead others toward these opportunities, projecting an attractive understanding of the future that others can commit to." --Randy Emelo, president and CEO of Triple Creek, a software provider
"The best leaders possess a strong emotional IQ. This defining trait allows for open, honest dialogue with other members of the team, and creates an environment of motivation and alignment within the organization where everyone feels like a stakeholder." -- Walter Buckley, chief executive officer at ICG, a holding company

"People want to follow a leader because he has a calming effect on them. He is pleasant and induces confidence. Good leaders gain the love of their followers and inspire them. Bad leaders rely on fear in their followers." -- Reuven Harrison, co-founder, Tufin Technologies, a management solutions firm

"One quality that is synonymous with great leaders is 'simple.' They practice humility, listen, internalize and communicate a response that makes a positive impact to a person, group or entire organization." -- Travis Lindemoen, customer experience executive, Nexus IT Group, an IT recruiting firm

"Great leaders have the ability to listen and distill what they glean in order to communicate in a manner that garners buy-in from their constituents, be it employees, peers or adversaries." -- Susana Alvarez-Diaz, president, The Alvarez Dia Group, a consulting firm

"The ability to inspire and motivate others. Almost every leader can push hard for results but the ability to get people to pull is rare." -- Joe Folkman, president and co-founder of Zenger Folkman, a leadership development firm

"It all starts with the ability to build trust. Oftentimes the greatest leaders, regardless of social or professional status, are remembered for inspiring others to buy in to a vision. This skill has less to do with focusing solely on business strategy and more to do with consistently showing others that 'I've got your back.'" -- Keld Jensen, managing director, MarketWatch Management, a consulting firm

"View all work as honorable. Any activity that happens inside the organization --from cleaning, picking up trash off the floor, to business analysis -- is important and valuable. Therefore, treat each person as valuable and important." --Scott A. Ward, principal, 4ward Associates, a corporate culture consulting firm

"Heart leadership. Head leaders are great at creating a strategy and plan, but heart leaders are great at making their people feel special by getting to know their team and connecting with their teammates' feelings and passions. Leaders who lead with the head and the heart have the ability to inspire their team to perform at high standards because they want to, but also give them clear direction." -- Linda Sasser, president and COO, The John Maxwell Company, a leadership development organization

"Leaders have mastered 'the pause.' When tempers flare or problems arise, instead of making a snap decision or passing judgment, they pause, listen and consider the options. The pause is a 'safe zone' where reason and fairness rule over emotion." -- Mary Nestor-Harper, president and owner, MJNH Consulting, a management consulting firm
"Making people happy and delivering exceptional customer service go hand-in-hand with customer acquisition and retention. Optimism is something that cannot be taught, but that can be a key driver for long-term growth and success. Optimism is that invisible motivator that makes a leader stand out, not just with the customers she serves, but with the team(s) she works with daily. And that translates to sustainable growth."-- Roy Hessel, CEO of EyeBuyDirect, an eyeglasses retailer

"There are three extraordinary skills all great business leaders must have today. They need to balance confidence and humility. This garners positivity and respect, equally, from your team. Two, they need to be constantly aware of the team's dynamics. Are people excited? Happy? Committed to the vision? Finally, they need to have an ability to adapt to the personalities on their team, not vice versa. Leaders who exert too much of their own iron fist will squander the team's unique identity and ultimately morale will suffer." -- Mike Sprouse, chief marketing officer, Epic Media Group, a digital marketing solutions company

"Two of the most critical soft skills that all senior executives must posses are communication skills: the ability to effectively speak in public and the ability to negotiate. The job of a C-level executive is to accomplish great things through the people on their team. In order to make this happen, the fantastic leadership ideas in their head need to be able to get out in order to influence others. Public speaking is one of the most powerful ways to make this happen.

One of the great myths of management is that once you reach the C-level, you control everything. The reality is that you now have a lot more responsibilities and not much more control. That means that senior executives need to have the skills needed to work deals quickly and efficiently. This is where a mastery of the art of negotiating comes in. Knowing how to size up the other side of the table, when to give in and when to challenge them are all parts of how C-level executives marshal the resources and the staff to accomplish great things." -- Jim Anderson, president and CEO, Blue Elephant Consulting, a communications consulting firm

"Great leaders today are masters of persuasion. They can effectively communicate ideas and build support and buy-in largely because they are able to 'connect' with others. Emotional maturity and approachability make them well liked, respected and therefore effective." -- Lauren Elward, CEO, Castle Ink, an ink cartridge supplier

"It's essential to be able to persuade and excite others about the goals you want to accomplish for the company. It's hard, if not impossible, to be effective without buy-in across the organization." -- Tony Pham, VP, Marketing, Life360, a mobile start-up company

"Leaders are great listeners and make people feel comfortable so that they can talk through issues and decisions. Leaders are a calming influence on the teams within an organization. They have a knack for making the people in the room feel better about themselves as they handle the stresses that naturally arise in every business setting." -- Michael Araten, president and CEO, K'NEX Brands, L.P., a construction company

"I've come to learn that attitude and work ethic are by far the best early indicators of long-term success. I'd rather hire someone who is a team player, coachable and loyal, over the smartest person in the world who can't work with others."-- Yung D. Trang, president, TechBargains, a technology information provider

"All great leaders possess the ability to create and foster enough trust in relationships so that they receive bad news even quicker than good news." -- Jay Steinfeld, CEO, Blinds.com, an online retailer

"Leaders should show empathy while listening to the concerns of their employees and business partners." -- Charles Tran, founder and research director, CreditDonkey.com, a consumer credit card comparison website

Rachel Farrell researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.com. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.

Last Updated: 10/05/2011 - 5:39 PM


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