Over the past few days, we’ve explored the topic of women in leadership and the workplace. First, we celebrated the progress women have made in leveling the leadership playing field. Next, we looked at the obstacles women may put in their own path to leadership excellence. Today, we wrap up this guest blog series by focusing on how women leaders have performed during the COVID-19 crisis.
One of the most important leadership lessons we have learned from the pandemic and the other social, political and economic crises that have converged over the past year is that soft skills make strong leaders. Women lead differently than men and offer unique management and interpersonal skills while demonstrating high levels of emotional intelligence. Frequently, the soft skills that women bring to the office include compassion, empathy, and caring connection.
Soft skills — often called “people skills” — enhance a leader’s ability to relate well to others. They enable leaders to show up for their people in a way that nurtures and strengthens relationships while bringing out the best in others. While soft skills are important in any business climate, they become critical during crisis and high-tension situations. The events of 2020 became exactly the test that women leaders needed to demonstrate their innate abilities. Women leading in 2020 outscored men in the competencies essential to managing through the multiple crises our nation has endured, such as learning agility, valuing diversity, and championing change.
According to a Zenger and Folkman study involving analysis of 360-degree reviews, women have been rated by those who work for them as 11% more effective leaders during the pandemic when compared with men and women’s leadership effectiveness ratings during the crisis have doubled compared to men (8% increase and 4% increase respectively). In the same study, women were rated significantly higher on numerous highly valued soft skills including inspires and motivates, develops others, builds relationships, displays high integrity, communicates powerfully, and collaboration and teamwork. These results signify that soft skills strongly contributed to the effectiveness of women leaders and their ability to skillfully demonstrate care and compassion for their people while keeping their teams engaged and motivated during one of the most stressful business, social, and political environments in history.
The power of soft skills is not new and cannot be ignored. Leaders of both genders can benefit from an increased focus on soft skill development. In the wake of the disruptions and volatility that defined 2020 and the uncertainty of what the next year may bring, it is essential that leaders align business objectives with the emotional needs of their people. When leaders skillfully meet the needs of colleagues and employees, they unlock positive feelings and renew energy. Relationships become stronger and teams are more resilient and productive. Sharpening soft skills now sets a course for success not only in the new year but in a new era.