How human-centred leadership can set your small business apart from the competition

lead, leadership

Each day for a small-business owner requires a different set of expertise: operations manager, quality control, finance manager, human resources expert and more. We each have different strengths and weaknesses and often leadership skills are an after-thought when you’re focused on the day to day operations. Here’s the good news…

Gone are the days when an individual at the top takes ultimate control and makes decisions based solely on their beliefs. To succeed in today’s world, organisational leaders must create an environment where workplace collaboration and wellbeing are valued and prioritised. This shift in approach has the potential to make your business more scalable by focusing on empowering your people as well as making your company a more attractive place to work so you can attract and retain the best talent.

Why put people first?

Optimistic leadership expert and bestselling author of The Power of Why and Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek, defines good leadership as “making others feel safe”. He explains that great leaders have the skills to inspire their people and create an environment of trust and cooperation. Organisations who adopt this approach, Sinek argues, vastly outperform their competition.

Today, the most forward-thinking CEOs need to have the technical and practical skills required to run their businesses and possess the soft skills to relate to their staff and customers. Leaders set themselves up for long term success by putting people at the core of their business.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are personal attributes that allow you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. You can practise soft skills like emotional intelligence by identifying ‘the vibe’ of what’s happening around you and developing the emotional vocabulary to communicate with others effectively. Empathy and understanding the feelings of others are also crucial to building successful relationships, whether it’s with an individual, team or customer.

Which soft skills are the most important?

In an era of artificial intelligence and automation, human-centric skills are needed now more than ever. According to the Harvard Business Review, ‘soft skills’ are misnamed as they’re the hardest to understand and perfect, but ultimately give humans an edge over robots.

How do you develop soft skills?

The term ‘soft skills’ may imply that they’re simple to learn, but these critical skills are anything but easy to truly master. The good news is that there are ways to get on the road to soft skill proficiency:

  • Start by being aware. Notice what’s happening with yourself and others in meetings and within your team. Who are the influencers in the conversation, and why? What can you learn from how they communicate, regardless of what they say. Consider ways in which you can further cultivate this dialogue in the future.
  • Develop and build on your emotional vocabulary to be able to communicate better and practise empathy. For example, when talking with a team member about a difficult or uncomfortable topic, see if you can reflect on it and describe the feelings or thoughts you experienced in more detail. Were you surprised, disappointed, worried?
  • Be open to feedback, actively asking trusted team members what they would suggest as your focus areas for improvement, and be open to learn and grow. Although you may be the most senior person in the organisation, eliciting 360 degree feedback can help you identify gaps in your leadership. Employees view this curiosity positively and will likely be more willing to have more open and constructive conversations about challenges in future.

Most importantly, be prepared to step out of your comfort zone and practice these skills regularly. Some may be inherent to you and easy to pick up, others completely foreign, but all can be learned and developed through coaching, workshops, and good old-fashioned practice.