SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership — tracks feedback from more than 190,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

Last week, we asked: Which type of skill do you value more in your team members?

  •  Technical — being an expert at their work is key: 18.03%
  • Functional — skills like leadership and problem solving are most critical: 81.97%

It’s the soft skills that matter. While it’s great to be a domain expert in your field, clearly leaders value functional or soft skills more. Those soft skills can be applied to a broad array of issues, opportunities, and challenges and people who possess those skills are easier to move around the organization to solve other problems. What gets even more interesting is thinking beyond functional skills to “role-based skills” like devil’s advocate, cheerleader, driver, etc. Leaders who can manage all three critical types of skills are much more likely to succeed than those who stay focused solely on the technical competencies. (read more…)

As we approach the final quarter of 2014, most business leaders are shifting their focus to year-end responsibilities, such as delivering reviews, announcing promotions, and repositioning team or organizational roles. While it’s fun and rewarding to convey positive news, many leaders struggle with communicating about and managing the fallout from disappointing news or potentially unsettling changes that are inevitably announced this time of year as well.

There are generally three choices for dealing with such “elephants in the room”: (1) choose to ignore them, (2) dance around them insufficiently, or (3) address them in an open, direct and constructive way. I will always recommend the last approach, accompanied by a manager-as-coach mindset.

A best practice to help leaders coach their people through such stressful situations involves a common sense series of four Ps: Process, Probing, Perspectives, and Planning.

Process. Encourage your people to process setbacks rather than bottling them up. Disappointments obviously conjure lots of emotion, which is energy in motion, so it’s not healthy to simply brush them aside. (read more…)

“To be persuasive, we must be believable; to be believable, we must be credible; to be credible, we must be truthful.” ~ Edward R. Murrow

One of the hardest talks that I had to give took place right before the beginning of my third year as head of school. It was at the back-to-school full faculty meeting and I needed to clear the air about an issue that was on many people’s minds.

The issue was me. Not that I necessarily did anything so terrible that required addressing. But I knew that our insular, largely veteran faculty was still struggling with the transition from their previous boss and the relatively new style of leadership that I represented. My message was simple and direct. I validated the feelings of those who continued to pine for a bygone era and let them know that I was prepared to do whatever I could to ensure the smoothest pathway forward. (read more…)

This post is sponsored by Alan Fox, author of People Tools for Business.

A growing number of business leaders are stepping out of their corner offices, shedding their stoic demeanor and adopting a more personal leadership style that favors authentic relationships.

Author and entrepreneur Alan Fox talks about the link between heart and personal connections as they relate to business in his new book “People Tools for Business.” SmartBrief spoke with Fox about how these two entities work together to create effective leadership and business success.

In your story “The Tin Woodman,” you say you hope you have become like him and finally “earned your heart” and learned how to exercise “effective compassion.” Why are these qualities necessary for leaders?

In the “Wizard of Oz”, the Tin Woodman wanted a heart. He had to go through adventures and vanquish the evil witch of the west to earn his heart, to learn how to care for people. (read more…)

Leading change starts with a compelling leadership vision for change. According to leadership expert John Kotter, a lack of leadership vision is one of the most common reasons why transformational change efforts fail.

A leadership vision isn’t just for large, CEO-led, companywide transformational changes. Leaders at all levels need to inspire people to change in order to overcome significant challenges and achieve important goals.

“Transformational” is always relative and defined by those most affected by the change. While an office reconfiguration at a branch office may seem insignificant and trivial to a CEO and his executive team, it’s probably considered transformational to the employees that work in that office. It’s up to the branch office manager to have a vision for that reconfiguration or the move is going to be met with skepticism and resistance. The change could take longer than it needs to without even achieving the desired results. (read more…)