Soft Skills and the Senior Executive

Job Title: Senior Executive
Required Skills: Emotional Intelligence; Technical and management skills; Global experience; ability to handle ambiguity; learning agility, and strong self-motivation.

Soft Skills and the Senior Executive
Traditional leadership skills to reach executive levels are not enough, with today’s ever-evolving positions. To stay on top, an individual needs to develop emotional intelligence soft skills.

Are you qualified? The trend of today’s senior-level positions reflect increased job complexity, adaptability and flexibility, plus plethora of emotional intelligence soft skills, plus all the regular skills of technical management and leadership. Whew! That’s a very tall order.

Earlier this year, Harvard Business Review published a series on “The Next Generation of Global Leaders” in which the underlying theme in planning a career path towards senior executive is a bit of an evolving target. The shift relates to the knowledge economy and inevitable changes to how we work.

To keep up with the shift in how C-level jobs are changing, you have to take responsibility for gaining and refining the skills required to do the job. Developing your leadership soft skills will differentiate you and elevate you in competing for top spots compared to others who are good on paper but flat in person. As we’ll see in the next section, these skills are indeed “soft” and less tactical than traditional leadership skills.

Soft Skills – Emotional Intelligence unraveled

Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” believes there are a group of skills that not only enable a leader’s top performance but extend to the performance of their teams. In his years of ground-breaking research on the subject, he found a direct correlation to these skills and business performance. Truly effective leaders have high emotional intelligence, elevating their performance and results, across five competencies:

  1. Self-awareness – Knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions.
  2. Self-regulation – Managing one’s internal states, impulses and resources.
  3. Motivation – Emotional tendencies that guide or facilitate reaching goals.
  4. Empathy – Awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns.
  5. Social skill – Adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others.

Goleman says that you have natural talent within each of these areas, and you further strengthen your abilities through practice, feedback and coaching. By polishing your soft skills in combination with your technical skills, you grow into a well-rounded executive.

Related Reading

For more articles within my Rules of Effective Leadership series, read my previous article Game Rules for Effective Leadership. “It’s Harder than Ever to Be a Senior Executive” by Boris Groysberg, Feb 13, 2012 and “What makes a Leader” by Daniel Goleman, Jan 2004 are available at HBR Blog Network.

Email me at for career questions you have or if you would like a PDF copy of this blog post.

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