October 30


Are You Soft Enough to Get Hard Results?

By Sara Canaday

October 30, 2009

career success, leadership, leadership behaviors, leadership development, leadership skills, management, professional development

Please join me in welcoming a new guest blogger, Holly Green, author of the top-selling book, More Than a Minute: How to be an Effective Leader & Manager in Today’s Changing World.  I’m honored to have Holly share her thought provoking take on critical leadership skills.


 Profitability.  Cash flow.  Balance sheet.  Market value.  Stock price.  Return on investment.

sara canaday hard resultsThese are the things that business leaders get judged on visibly.  If you don’t make the numbers, you get held accountable.  So it’s not surprising that most executives tend to devote the majority of their time and attention to managing the “hard” side of business.

The irony is that achieving hard results in today’s business world depends to a large degree on what some consider to be “soft” leadership skills — things like coaching, teaching, communicating, inspiring, motivating, operating with integrity, engaging and other people/relationship skills.

For years, experts have talked and written about emotional intelligence and other “soft” skills.  But measures have changed little.  Some business leaders are catching on to the fact that in order to effectively lead their companies they need to not only constantly hone their “soft” skills, they also need to continuously embrace new attitudes.  When leaders ask me what I consider to be the most important leadership ability for today, they’re usually surprised at my answer.  In my experience, the #1 thing business leaders need to develop is the ability to slow down in order to go fast.

What do I mean by that?

In today’s world, change comes at us like a speeding train, and as we go forward the rate of change will only increase.  At the same time, we get inundated by so much “noise” (emails, tweets, constantly changing data, continuously shifting priorities) that even the most focused leaders can get overwhelmed.  As a result, people and organizations get stretched way too thin, and we are continually asked to do more than we can actually do.

When everything around you tries to divert you into complexity, the solution lies in getting back to basics.  In other words, slow down in order to go fast.  Here are some additions to “soft” leadership skills that will help you get the hard results your organization needs:

•    Get focused.  The first job of leaders is to set the vision, destination and goals for the organization.  Define what winning looks like for your organization, and make sure everyone else in the organization understands it.  Until you know where you’re going, you can’t know what you need to do in order to get there.  Once you figure that out, strive to keep the organization focused on three to five key strategic initiatives.

•    Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  It’s human nature to appreciate the comfort and presumed certainty of doing things the same way and getting predictable results.  But when everything is changing around you, doing the same things no longer guarantees the same results.  Change does not feel comfortable, but you had better get used to it.

•    Learn how to unlearn.  Before you can incorporate the new (such as social media, shifting consumer expectations, new technology, varying demands of the multiple generations at work, and changing competitive environments, etc.) you must first let go of the old.  Constantly challenge what you know to be true about your customers and your market(s).  Ask, “What attitudes, beliefs and assumptions are we holding onto that are longer valid?”

•    Communicate for clarity.  Now more than ever employees need to know where the organization is going and what it will look like once you get there.  If you fail to keep them informed, people will make up information to fill in the gaps.  And (trust me on this one) the ideas they make up about where the company needs to go almost never align with yours.  Communicate constantly about strategies and excellence so that your people stay informed, inspired and engaged in doing the right things.

•    Think differently.  Make it a point to continually explore the environment you operate in and consider different approaches. Ask yourself (and others), “What if we considered a different angle or took a different approach?  What if we’re wrong and this information means something different to someone else?”

Test yourself every time you feel certain that you got it right or you find yourself doing it the same way you’ve always done it.  Constantly update your mental models about the world, your work and everyone in it.

In addition to some of the time tested underlying traits of leaders (integrity, empathy, self awareness, etc.), take the time to focus on some of these updated “soft” leadership skills and the hard numbers will take care of themselves.


Holly G. Green

Holly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author.  Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.  Drawing on more than 20 years of in-the-trenches experience, she understands the challenges facing today’s leaders and managers and shares practical guidance for thinking differently and winning today.

For more information about Holly G. Green, please visit The Human Factor or More Than A Minute.

Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

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