Female leadership: Must-have not-so-soft skills for managers and leaders

Soft skills for managers

Many times, female leaders — and women in the workspace — struggle with feelings of inadequacy. They feel ignored or have a hard time asserting themselves and getting recognition for their accomplishments.

As a woman in the workplace, you may have faced many frustrating situations. Being interrupted in meetings, having others take credit for your work, and even facing microaggressions like comments on your appearance, your choice of motherhood, age, or even professional skills and education are, unfortunately, not uncommon.

Along with your professional development, working on your not-so-soft skills will improve your confidence and put your best foot forward in the workplace.

5 Essential Soft Skills for women in management and leadership

Assertive communication

Especially in challenging situations, it’s often easier to skirt around an issue for fear of being perceived as pushy or demanding. But effective leadership and relationships, in general, require some level of assertiveness.

In practice, assertive communication means being able to express yourself without fear of rejection or criticism. Brené Brown said it best: Clear is kind.

Instead of trying to soften the blow or keep everyone content or happy, focus on sharing your message in a way that leaves no room for misunderstanding. Now, this doesn’t mean being rude or overstepping others’ boundaries. It means finding the most effective way to say what you mean.

Active listening

Oftentimes, we enter a conversation and our minds are already made up. We listen to the other party to reply and establish our perspective — not to see theirs.

But this approach opens more gaps than it closes. It’s easy to see that consensus is nearly impossible if no one is willing to compromise.

Active listening means listening with the intent to understand rather than formulate a reply. It also means listening carefully to what other people say, even — especially — when you disagree with them. Only this way will you be able to find common ground and establish a link to solve the issue at hand.

Especially in leadership roles, practicing active listening creates a culture of trust and empathy by removing the barriers of defensiveness and allowing for genuine and honest exchange to take place.

Clear boundary setting

Being assertive isn’t just about speaking up. It’s also about knowing how to set boundaries. A boundary is a limit you set for yourself and others as it relates to you and your non-negotiables. It shows them how you expect to be treated and what they can expect from you.

If you’re not sure where to draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, ask yourself these questions: Is my behavior causing harm to me or others? Am I making things worse by continuing to behave this way? Do I have any alternatives to this behavior?

On the flip side, when it comes to others’ behavior, you’ll want to be clear about where you stand and what you will and won’t tolerate.

Not accepting comments about your personal life, appearance, age, or other aspects that don’t directly relate to your performance and your role are examples of the boundaries you can set in the workplace.

Conflict prevention and resolution

It’s easy to become defensive when people disagree with you. However, being able to listen without judgment and respond appropriately will help you avoid conflict. You should never make assumptions about another person’s motives or intentions. Instead, try to understand why they feel the way they do before responding. Practice empathy — put yourself in their shoes. This will help you resolve conflicts more quickly and efficiently.

For example, if emotions seem to be escalating, it’s okay to take a step back and calm down before continuing the conversation. You can say something like, “I’d like to take a moment to collect my thoughts. Can we talk in 15 minutes?”

Ability to give (and take) feedback

Feedback is an essential part of any learning process. It’s vital for both colleagues’ improvement and your own.

However, feedback is also an art form that requires certain elements to be effective. Consider these the next time you’re providing feedback to a coworker or subordinate:

  • Specificity. You want feedback to focus on one thing and one thing only. You also want to focus on the behavior — not the person.
  • Consequence. Address the reason this behavior is positive or negative by explaining its results or consequences. If it’s positive, share praise. If it’s negative, explain why that’s the case. For example, explain that someone’s missed deadline delays the team’s ability to finish the project on time.
  • Solution. Offer a solution or ask the person impacted to propose one in order to prevent the issue from happening again.

On the other hand, receiving feedback can be challenging, too. You’ll want to be receptive and objective, looking to understand the other person’s perspective and how your behavior impacts them — positively or negatively.

As a leader, how you share feedback helps your colleagues and direct reports learn how they can do it. And it’s important to foster a safe space where everyone can voice their opinions or concerns in a timely manner and in a productive way.

Final words

It’s common for women to face challenges in the workplace. These challenges are frustrating at best and can lead to long-lasting negative consequences in your career.

In the end, your emotional intelligence and ability to set boundaries, for example, will differentiate you and facilitate successful leadership for years to come.

Are you interested in developing your leadership skills to drive positive impact in your organization? Book a consultation with me today!

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