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The impact of leadership soft skills on mental wellbeing in the workplace

17 Jul 2019

Business man explaining a theory at deskIn the current unpredictable and fast-paced business landscape, the pressure on business leaders to be all-things-to-all-people has never been felt so keenly.

With the much-needed move towards a greater emphasis on the importance of good governance, business leaders should rightly expect their conduct to be under scrutiny; both in the boardroom and in the way that they interact with employees. Business continues to evolve and - increasingly - the once accepted ‘iron fist’ of leadership is becoming a thing of the past.

Sometimes overlooked, the ability to master soft skills in a senior management position stands any business leader in good stead for effective and successful leadership. Where organisational culture can be key to combating mental health and wellbeing challenges in the workplace, the importance of soft skills should not be underestimated.

IoD member, inclusivity champion and Managing Director Maria Coulson examines the link between mental health and leadership soft skills in the following article.

Wellbeing and why soft skills are important

Soft skills that include things like interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and communication are key to building and sustaining a healthy and inclusive culture in any organisation whatever the size or sector. And a healthy and inclusive culture is good for both individuals and the organisation. Crucially, relating to the topic of mental health and wellbeing, soft skills can also enable leaders and managers to more effectively identify wellbeing issues in the workplace early on, either for individuals or for teams.

Leaders and managers without the right soft skills are frequently the cause of wellbeing issues in the workplace, potentially giving rise to mental health challenges further down the line. Many people leave organisations because of people. Often difficult relationships with whoever manages them and/or a breakdown of understanding and communication can leave employees feeling disillusioned and isolated. This can often lead to stress, feeling undervalued or even, in some cases, feeling bullied.

In many organisations it is common for there to be a mismatch of belief and understanding relating to the organisational culture: for example, whether the organisation operates a safe and open culture without blame or bullying, whether employees feel valued and motivated at work, whether the culture encourages and facilitates open conversations about problems and challenges and if there is a positive and collaborative approach to resolving issues.

Armed with developed and finely tuned soft skills business leaders and managers can create good leadership and the supportive relationships that are key to building and sustaining healthy and productive working lives. Any potential wellbeing issues can be identified early for individuals or teams, leaders can intervene early and provide the appropriate levels of engagement and support to achieve a positive outcome.

My top tips for honing soft skills as a leader:

    Get to know your people

  • What motivates them
  • What are their personal triggers for stress
  • What are their personality traits and how do they relate to you and other members of the team
  • Create a sense of belonging with meaningful feedback, giving praise not just criticism and being prepared to really listen
  • Develop and build on your own soft skills

  • Learn how to be more aware of others including being able to spot often subtle signs of issues or tensions
  • Recognise when there are subtle changes in individual employees or amongst teams including changes in behaviour, lack of focus and interaction or perhaps an individual becoming more detached from the rest of the team
  • Have the confidence to identify and address issues
  • Have those ‘difficult conversations’ sooner rather than later

  • Understand the ‘story’ or what has happened
  • Listen to understand their perspective
  • Agree together on problem solving with options that address both sides concerns and interests

IoD Member Maria Coulson is Managing Director of Ricorda Consultancy Ltd, specialising in wellbeing and inclusivity at the heart of business, with over 30 years’ experience in the public and private sector.

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