Call it soft skills, if you like, but it’s really not a skill. It’s you being the real you, which is what all the hullabaloo is about regarding “authentic” leaders. It is you no longer needing to maintain an act of whatever you thought previously was a show of powerful, strong, capable leadership. Even very bright leaders may be unaware that others can see through this act. In this sense, the emperor truly is naked. But not to worry, there are self-awareness based leadership development programs designed to clothe emperors in a “regalia” that garners or restores respect among other sterling qualities.
But can leadership development programs really teach soft skills? The answer is yes and no. There are a myriad of factors that support successful leadership development programs. They include:
1) A program environment that is experienced as safe, one in which everyone’s dignity is honored,
2) A program that provides a strong balance between experiential exercises (do not be thinking role playing here) and other compelling leadership models, research, and anecdotes,
3) A program that includes exercises that work at root-cause level, and
4) A program in which the facilitator is experienced as someone trustworthy, knowledgeable/competent, and a virtual model of effective leadership herself or himself. This is someone motivational with clear direction and unwavering support equally divided amongst all participants.
Point being, it has everything to do with creating an experience rather than a list of facts and stats. After all, when participants return to work, if indeed during their leadership program they had an experience of themselves interacting with heightened authenticity and confidence, they stand a greater likelihood to continue that experience at work. It is hard to argue with the power of the subconscious when change has taken place at root cause level. That’s why we call it “authentic leadership” – people are experienced as more relaxed and natural while continuing to get the job done.
Take for an example, people who tend to be task-focused to the degree that they may unintentionally leave wounded spirits in their wake as they go about their achievements (as an aside, they tend to make great candidates for leadership development programs). When something deep inside has shifted as a result of a developmental program, what also shifts is that intense, driven demeanor that can drive people away. Replacing that is a sense of social knowingness regarding soft skills that simply was not there before. As such and with dedicated persistence, one’s credibility can skyrocket.
Just as the feeling of “falling in love” remains a bit of a mystery, so does that internal “feel-good” shift that takes place when one recognizes he or she simply feels different about self and others. The best evidence of the power of change takes place when others begin responding positively to the parallel shift in one’s delivery system or personality. Once again, call it soft skills, if you like, but it’s really not a skill. It’s just you getting back to being the real you, the one people feel safe embracing as their leader.