Why soft skills are key for effective multi-generational leadership

17 Dec 2019

Why soft skills are key for effective multi-generational leadership

As a rapidly-approaching generation gap challenges established leaders, the importance of soft skills and self-awareness to bridge that distance grows in importance.

Generational gap in the workplace

A great deal has been written about the perceived differences in the habits and values of Generation Y, born between early 1980s and 1996 and most commonly referred to as Millennials, and more lately, on Generation Z (born 1997 onwards). This generational and experiential diversity in the workplace often leads to conversations about how generational differences will impact business functions. While having an age diversity in the workplace should be seen as an asset rather than a liability, in order to capitalize on it senior leaders should understand the type of leadership they are expected to deliver and to act on it.

The most difficult part is probably to overcome your own biases, so let’s stop focusing on stereotyping and rather reflect upon how to embrace a multi-generational workforce, and what your role as a leader can be. This may entail, from you as a CEO, the willingness to find out how you are viewed by others, and your ability and openness to adapt your own behaviour, while remaining loyal to your own values. Employing your soft skills is key to this.

Are you, as an executive, widely aware of the type of leadership these younger generations prefer? And how your current leadership style and behaviour reflects on these future leaders?

Self-awareness: why it is now, more than ever, important for executives

Luckily, gone are the days that the leader was the “expert” and that their vision could not be questioned. Today, being a recognised leader is no longer solely linked to knowledge. Rather, it’s a consequence of who you are and even more of how you are perceived.

If, as an executive leader, the prospect of introspection and agility makes you uncomfortable, you should know there are many benefits to self-aware leadership.

First of all, self-aware leaders are authentic, and open to others’ perspectives and perceptions about their personality and behaviour. These traits of humbleness, adaptability and open communication build trust among team members and encourage them in return to be honest in their opinions without fear of being criticized. Allowing your team to bring new ideas to the table, to dare to challenge the status quo, enables you to create a fertile soil for entrepreneurship and innovative business initiatives.

In addition, it creates room for humanity, meaning making mistakes, learning from them and grow.

Secondly, self-awareness will help corporate leaders to better relate to the expectations of their teams, by understanding what their team members need from them, in order to successfully contribute to the company’s objectives. And… having impact is, next to personal development, definitely one of the drivers of our younger generations. Everyone within a company has their added value to bring and an effective leader acknowledges this, and responds to their needs in an empathetic way.

Whilst self-awareness is the first step to identifying how to support or guide your team, there are other soft skills you can apply to forge your vision - and team - ahead.  

The value of other soft skills in effective leadership

Authenticity, humbleness and open-mindedness have become increasingly important to earn respect and to successfully lead your multi-generation teams.

An authentic leader is a business leader who cultivates honest relationships with their teams and is not afraid to ask for honest input and ideas from that team.

Compassion, another key trait in an effective leader, can inspire increased cooperation, resilience under pressure, which nurtures a positive working environment, improved productivity and outcomes. We sometimes tend to downplay the influence of private life on the professional life and dismiss it as “an HR issue”, but we no longer can afford to do that.

When an empathetic leader encourages the free flow of communication, this can only lead to facilitating resolution to hurdles and create connections across multiple workforce generations.

If you are looking for the leaders with the right skills to drive your organisation forward, or would like to know how you are perceived as a leader, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.