13 Examples of Soft Skills Every Leader Needs in 2021 

Two colleagues practicing soft skills at work
As the world works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders are working to realign their skillsets with the demands of a hybrid professional environment, highlighting new examples of soft skills that are more important than ever.  

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the professional world forever—in turn bringing to light new examples of soft skills that are pivotal to the success of business leaders.  

After all, mandatory work-from-home orders created a jarring shift toward remote work. The effects of uncertainty and fear have taken a drastic toll on employee engagement and wellbeing. And as a result, leaders have been forced to adapt their approaches to keeping a strong, happy, and productive team. 

In fact, research has shown that, as a result of global changes from the pandemic, soft skills are more important than ever at work—it’s even been predicted that by 2030, two-thirds of all jobs will be dependent on soft skills as more and more “technical” jobs are outsourced to artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics. 

With that in mind, we reached out to our network of business leaders to get their insights on examples of soft skills that every leader needs in 2021 and beyond. 

Here’s what they had to say.  

Problem-Solving 

miklos zoltan headshot

Miklos Zoltan, CEO & Cybersecurity Researcher at Privacy Affairs, believes that one of the most historically important examples of soft skills for leaders will remain forever: problem-solving. 

“First and foremost, I believe that a successful leader is a problem solver,” says Miklos. “When team members are unable to solve a business problem on their own, they will turn to their leaders. While some challenges may appear to be unique, the truth is that there are few things under the sun that are truly new. So, most difficulties that a business leader is confronted with will simply be a new iteration of a challenge they’ve already faced. That means their experience is invaluable and can be shared with their team.” 

If you’d like to learn more about how to master these skills, check out the blog post we wrote on team building problem solving activities.  

Negotiation 

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According to Markus Albert, Managing Director at EatFirst, negotiation always has been and always will be one of the most vital examples of soft skills for leaders. 

“Negotiation skills have always and continue to be one of the most important leadership skills,” says Markus. “Leaders need to be able to negotiate all kinds of things. This includes increasing demands for flexibility from employees and work-from-home terms for employees who are either not ready or don’t want to return to the office, all while still keeping the company’s best interests in mind. This also extends to negotiating salaries for new remote employees as well as an increasingly broad range of benefits that people are looking for or expecting to continue in the post-pandemic era.” 
 
He adds, “Negotiation is the most important skill, to my mind, because being a good negotiator requires forethought as well as empathy—two qualities that serve leaders well in any workplace, virtual or in-person. Employers expect their leadership to be able to negotiate on behalf of the company with clients, to balance employee and company interests, and leaders must also negotiate on their own behalf to get their ideas and projects funded, approved, and focused on.” 

If you’re interested in becoming a strong negotiator, you might like our training program, The Power of Negotiation, which can teach you to prepare for negotiations, keep your emotions in check, recognize how to influence others, and practice how to close a negotiation.  

Emotional Intelligence  

Micheal Robinson CHEAP SSL

According to Michael Robinson, Security Expert at CheapSSLSecurity, emotional intelligence has always been critical. But now, in the wake of especially difficult times, it’s more vital than ever. 

“The ability to notice, assess, and respond to your own and others’ emotions is referred to as emotional intelligence,” explains Michael. “This means you can think empathetically about the people around you and the interpersonal interactions that format work. This is yet another soft talent that has gained significant prominence in 2021. As we try to deal with the pandemic, we’re experiencing a lot of stress, grief, and frustration. Having the ability to sense your coworkers’ emotions and act with compassion is critical in a variety of situations, from new work-from-home obstacles to missing loved ones or other pandemic concerns.” 

For more on this subject, you might like our comprehensive resource on developing emotional intelligence for leaders.  

Technical Communication Skills  

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As the way we work has evolved, so too has the way we need to communicate, says Carter Seuthe, CEO at Credit Summit

“This skill sits on the border between soft skills and technical skills,” says Carter. “Technical communication skills are essential in today’s work environment. This requires you to have not only good verbal presentation skills but also a familiarity with the features and quirks of your chosen meeting app and a good sense of timing to compensate for lag. It’s a whole different animal compared to in-person presentations. There are different feedback cues to look for from the audience, and your voice and slides have to do much more to get your point across.” 

We completely agree: effective communication in the workplace can help your team produce higher-quality work, faster, while being happier in their role.  

Active Listening  

tony kelly headshot

Rather than simply waiting for their turn to speak, Tony Kelly, Founder & CEO at CameraGroove, touts active listening as one of the best examples of soft skills leaders will need in 2021 and beyond.  

“I believe that one of the most important skills every leader should have is the ability to actively listen,” explains Tony. “This means focusing entirely on the other person, attempting to comprehend not only the words but also the emotion behind them, appropriately reacting, and then remembering what was said. This talent, which was already difficult for some, became considerably more difficult this year as the entire employee-manager interaction went virtual. To begin with, talking via computers or digital devices necessitates a conscious effort to eliminate distractions so that both parties can remain focused on the conversation at hand. After all, you wouldn’t be multi-tasking between urgent email notifications, social media alerts, and everything else that may potentially capture your attention in a real-life one-on-one conversation with your staff. You would pay your staff the respect they are due.” 
 
He adds, “Furthermore, managers must be considerably more aware of nonverbal clues such as body language and voice tone while communicating in a digital context. When all you see on the screen in front of you is a floating head, it’s easy to overlook this. But most significantly, active listening entails being available when your team requires assistance. You’re not required to know all of the answers. All you have to do is provide a secure and open environment for your employees to express themselves, including venting about their pandemic-related frustrations. Listening to them actively can help you understand how you can support their success while also assisting them in overcoming any obstacles they may have.” 

Adaptability  

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If there’s one example of a soft skill that almost everyone in the world has had to embody in the last year, it’s adaptability. And this, according to Trevor Larson, CEO of Nectar, is going to continue to be critical.  

“Adaptability tends to be a function of a leader’s open-mindedness,” says Trevor. “It’s a trait that’s often measured using personality assessments, and it’s as crucial now as it ever has been thanks to the tremendous flux that characterizes most industries, especially with respect to digitization and automation. If you’re adaptable as a leader, you’re better able to thrive in changing work environments, incorporate new tools and new ways of organizing and interacting with employees, and are better equipped psychologically to adjust your communication style for different kinds of people.” 
 
He continues, “All of these abilities constitute adaptability, a skill that should be viewed as both an important area for personal growth by current leaders and as part of foundational hiring criteria for companies looking to bring on and promote leaders. 

Delegation 

Nicole Graham headshot

For Nicole Graham, Lifestyle/Relationship Coach at Womenio, delegation is the most prime example of a soft skill needed by leaders in all industries.  

“One of the most important corporate soft skills leaders may have is delegation,” explains Nicole. “While leaders are entrusted with a great deal of responsibility, they must take care not to get overworked, burnt out, or spend insufficient time on each project. Delegating responsibilities to staff allows a leader to devote more time and focus to a smaller number of initiatives, resulting in better, more considered outcomes. Furthermore, delegating responsibilities throughout the company shows employees that their supervisor trusts them, which boosts employee morale and motivation.” 

Optimism 

deidre alves headshot

If you don’t think optimism is a skill, think again, says Deidre Alves, M. Ed., Client Leadership Officer at ExuLAB

“What people may not realize is that this soft skill is perhaps the most important one,” shares Deidre. “This is especially true when climbing out of adversity. It’s so powerful because optimism has the quality of propulsion: the exact ingredient and positive energy that’s required to lift people up and move forward, even in the direst circumstances. Leaders who lead with optimism create a positive, hopeful vision of a happy future that you can actually feel and, as a result, create.” 

Motivational Skills 

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An example of a soft skill that shares many of the same outcomes as optimism is motivation skills, according to Ravi Parikh, CEO at RoverPass.  

“Motivational abilities are possibly the number one skill for leaders to have in 2021,” says Ravi. “COVID’s impact on businesses and individuals was earth-shattering, and many people are still struggling to feel safe and get back to a new normal. Leaders who can motivate employees and make them feel inspired in these times will be the ones who succeed. A lot of professionals across industries are questioning the direction of their careers from here on out, so it is vital that leaders make sure they know that their company is the right fit for their needs. Soft skills like team building, encouragement, and goal setting also fit into this category. 

Mentorship and Training 

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Now more than ever, Jennifer Harder, Founder and CEO at Jennifer Harder Mortgage Brokers, believes that a leader’s ability to mentor and train their staff is critical.  

“Employees will always benefit from having a growth mentality, even if they have certain skill sets that qualify them for their professions,” says Jennifer. “Employees can learn new skills, find more effective methods, or learn how to use new technologies by attending training sessions. Leaders may help their staff overcome obstacles or inspire positive changes in the workplace by spending time and resources in training and development.” 

She adds, “Although a CEO cannot personally mentor every employee, a mentorship program—in which senior staff members guide and check in with young staff members on a regular basis—can assist a company in a variety of ways. Experienced employees can assist fresher employees with large and little tasks, such as learning how to use certain software or sharing critical knowledge about long-term clientele. Mentors can also assist in the creation of an environment that values employee relationships.” 

Respect and Gratitude  

Kelli Lane headshot

While respect and gratitude have always been important for leaders to demonstrate, Kelli Lane, Chief Marketing Officer at Genexa, believes these are examples of soft skills that will be even more vital in a post-pandemic professional world.  

“Show respect and gratitude to your employees or subordinates,” says Kelli. “Empower them by promoting a culture of self-starters and decision-makers. Trust employees to make decisions and provide opportunities for employees to take on leadership roles. Reward and encourage employees that showcase initiative. Offer training opportunities to motivate employees to advance their skills. Incorporate weekly check-ins between managers and employees. Send out monthly surveys to gather anonymous feedback from staff on company culture, work-life balance, and overall attitude towards work. Listen and incorporate positive changes based on the feedback received.” 

If you’re looking for more inspiration on how to show appreciation for your team, we wrote an article on employee of the month ideas that you might find helpful.  

Understanding of Personalities 

harriet chan headshot

For Harriet Chan, Co-Founder of CocoFinder, a keen understanding of personalities—both their own personality and those of their team members—is a critical soft skill for leaders.  

“Understanding personalities and attitudes are among the essential soft skills leaders need to portray during challenging times,” explains Harriet. “By being aware of their own personality and that of their employees, as well as how those personalities impact professional behavior, leaders will be better equipped to deal with challenging times.” 

Unsure of what types of personality tests might be helpful? Here are three you can consider: 

  • StrengthsFinder: The StrengthsFinder assessment helps identify the strengths of your individual team members and gain actionable insight into how to leverage those strengths strategically to build strong teams. 

  • Myers-Briggs: Myers-Briggs tests can help employees and leaders identify work environments where they thrive and tasks at which they excel, as well as those that drain them of their energy. 

  • DiSC: Your team’s DiSC assessments can help identify distinct personal workstyles amongst colleagues and enhance collaboration and communication by providing insight into how different workstyles work best together. 

Stress Management 

deborah sweeney headshot

Even during the best of times, stress can be a challenge for both leaders and their team members. That’s why Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com, believes stress management is especially critical during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“One of the most important soft skills leaders should possess in 2021, and beyond, is stress management,” explains Deborah. “Now more than ever, it’s important to listen to your body and its needs. Do not overwork yourself or stress yourself to your breaking point. Take the time to sleep on making major decisions and to catch up on sleep in general. Eat healthy meals and hydrate by drinking a lot of water. And know when to unplug.” 

She adds, “Focus on activities that can allow you to recharge after unplugging, such as meditating, spending time with friends or family, and journaling to reflect on your emotions or moments throughout the day. Managing stress and managing it well allows you to be the best leader you can be for the team, company, and yourself.” 

In the post-pandemic professional world, these examples of soft skills needed by leaders can help create stronger bonds between colleagues, create happier and more engaged employees, and ultimately support better business outcomes. 

What are some examples of soft skills that you think leaders should have? If we missed one, let us know in the comments section below.  


Learn More Training and Development Programs to Help Build Soft Skills in Leaders      

For more information about how training and development programs can help instill soft skills in your leaders, reach out to our Employee Engagement Consultants.   


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