You may have heard the phrase soft skills.

Those are the people skills that many employers increasingly value, including the ability to effectively communicate, act a team player, solve problems, efficiently manage time, and exhibit an overall positive attitude. Soft skills complement the hard skills, or technical skills that are required to do a job (think computer coding for a software developer).

These soft skills are increasingly recognized (and sought after) as essential to leadership and the phrase soft skills is being rebranded by business leaders as power skills. Shelley Robbins, PhD, senior faculty chair of master’s degree programs in business at Capella University, is among those leaders.

“Truthfully, in business, these skills really have never been soft skills, which implied that they are not as impactful or as important as the technical skills we all need to do our jobs,” Robbins says. “Soft skills have always been power skills. We are just waking up to that fact. Without them, you really can’t develop into a strong leader of people who can guide an organization into the future.”

Robbins shares the following five tips to cultivate and hone your own power skills.

Begin by Looking in the Mirror

As with any meaningful journey of self-improvement, developing power skills begins by taking a long, hard look at yourself. Make a deeply introspective exploration of what kind of professional you are and want to be. Do you make time to be an active listener? Do you value opinions that are different than yours? Are you compassionate? Do you show gratitude and actively work to recognize those who deserve it? For some, this can be an uncomfortable exploration, as the truth may not match up with who you want to be. But that is where it must begin.

“It’s so important that we cultivate our self-awareness so that we can show up as our best possible authentic selves at work,” Robbins says. “Sure, it can be unsettling, but that’s what makes it so important and powerful. It exposes those areas where we need to do better. What we are talking about is cultivating emotional intelligence.”

There are many ways to learn more about oneself. Robbins says a great place to start is by asking others for their opinions about who we are when we are at our best. Solicit feedback from bosses, friends, and colleagues. Then use the strengths you learn about as a way to start doing more of what you do well.

Another way to raise awareness is through self-assessments, such as the Values in Action Character Survey. This survey can provide information on your strengths and what values you stand for. Engaging in coaching is also a popular and effective tool to build awareness and create power skills

Foster an Open Mind

Once you’ve done a self-assessment, it’s time to start acting upon that newfound self-awareness in engaging with others. According to Robbins, there is no better way to do that than to be truly open and receptive to ideas and perspectives that are different from your own.

“Being open to and actively seeking out different opinions is rooted in compassion,” Robbins says. “And being a compassionate leader is no small thing. It means you listen. You show that you are curious about others. You ask questions about their perspectives, and learn more about them without judgment. This will enable you to cultivate the strong relationships needed to lead and manage.”

Know That You Are an Inspiration

It is important for people leaders to appreciate and recognize that they are role models for others. 

“Everything you do and say will set an example – for good or for bad – and you need to understand that,” Robbins says. “There is no getting around the fact that as a leader you are a model for other people, regardless of whether you want to be or not. Live that example. It is important to establish a clear focus and perspective about your values and behavior in the workplace because employees are watching and taking cues from you.”

Be an Idea Generator

What better way to serve as a role model and source for inspiration than to be an innovator and an idea generator? Always be curious. Always be exploring. Always be introducing new ideas and perspectives. No matter what your level of leadership or tenure, Robbins says, it is important that leaders think out of the box and bring new ideas to the table.

“Part of living as an example is being a source of innovation and new ideas,” Robbins says. “It doesn’t matter how many people you manage or how long you’ve been in leadership, that innovative spirit can never die. We need to emphasize continuous learning and be diligent in not becoming stuck. Again, all leaders set examples of idea generation whether they are aware of that or not. Part of that example is to never stop learning; never stop being curious.”

Broaden Your Horizons
Where do those fresh, innovative ideas come from? Anywhere and everywhere, Robbins says. Sure, they can come from a person’s current workplace or industry, but they can also come from far beyond. The challenge is to seek them out.

“All of us really need to be intentional in developing a growth mindset that gets us out of our comfort zones,” Robbins says. “What are you doing to expose yourself to new ideas and experiences that are distinct from your day-to-day work life?  Have you signed on for an online webinar? Have you explored new hobbies lately? Traveled to somewhere you’ve never been? Volunteered for an organization that serves people with backgrounds different than yours? We all need to do those things. It can be incredibly invigorating.”

Creating and building power skills can bolster your technical prowess, helping you to be successful in leading yourself, your team, and your workplace.

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