Labeling skills as soft undervalues them. To prioritize skills such as communication, IT leaders must call them what they are in the digital era: Core.
How to build soft skills: 10 must-read books
Want to communicate more effectively? Resolve conflicts wisely? Keep your cool with difficult people? Improve your soft skills with these books
Book description (via Amazon): “Habits are powerful. They can lock us into negative behaviors (like snacking and smoking) or train us to act automatically in ways that benefit us (such as putting on a seat belt). Routines quietly undergird large portions of what we do and how we function. Habit formation can speed success in the workplace as well – even in complex areas like leadership. The Leader Habit spotlights 22 essential leadership abilities, breaking them down into a series of small, learnable behaviors. The accompanying five-minute exercises help you practice each of these new skills until they stick.”
Why you should read it: Business leaders are, well, busy. If working on your soft skills is at the top of your “when I have time” list, pick up this book. The 22 habits this book offers are by and large related to soft skills – from communicating a vision, to thinking outside the box, to negotiating effectively, and more. If you have five minutes, you can turn the right behaviors into lasting new habits.
Book description (via Amazon): “The modern workplace can be an emotional minefield, filled with confusing power structures and unwritten rules. We're expected to be authentic, but not too authentic. Professional, but not stiff. Friendly, but not an over sharer. Easier said than done! Ignoring or suppressing what you feel hurts your health and productivity – but so does letting your emotions run wild.”
Why you should read it: There’s a good reason why emotional intelligence is a coveted soft skill among leaders. Those who possess it are in tune with their emotions – not controlled by them. Drawing on their experiences as consultants (and humans with feelings), the authors offer up suggestions about which emotions to embrace at work, which should stay at home, and which can make us happier and more effective in our jobs.
Book description (via HBR): “Based on extensive research and decades of experience with leaders, this book reveals that people must have three essential elements in order to be happy at work: A sense of purpose and the chance to contribute to something bigger than themselves; A vision that is powerful and personal, creating a real sense of hope; Resonant, friendly relationships. With vivid and moving real-life stories, the book shows how leaders can use these powerful pillars to create and sustain happiness even when they're under pressure.”
Why you should read it: How can leaders expect their teams to feel happy, fulfilled, and driven in their work if they themselves are not? In this book, McKee dissects what it actually means to be happy at work and provides clear instructions for how to get there. When leaders emphasize purpose, hope, and friendships, they inspire others to do the same and, as a result, the entire organization benefits.
Book description (via Amazon): “Stress is an inevitable part of day to day work. From the sheer volume of work, to complex decisions, and working with others, leaders and employees are not able to work as effectively. ‘The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness’ is a highly practical guide to help you focus your attention on the present so you and your organization can perform more effectively. With emphasis on the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of mindfulness, you’ll discover how to reap the performance benefits and learn how to use mindfulness to become an emotionally agile leader.”
Why you should read it: If stress is getting in the way of your soft skill development, this might be a good book to pick up. The book promises practical, easy, and effective exercises to help you improve resilience, relationships, collaboration, decision-making, and problem-solving – all invaluable soft skills for leaders.
Book description (via Amazon): “In an incredibly entertaining and inspiring narrative that draws on countless stories from their work at IDEO, the Stanford d.school, and with many of the world's top companies, David and Tom Kelley identify the principles and strategies that will allow us to tap into our creative potential in our work lives, and in our personal lives, and allow us to innovate in terms of how we approach and solve problems. It is a book that will help each of us be more productive and successful in our lives and in our careers.”
Why you should read it: This book is for anyone who feels stuck in a creativity rut, or who simply want to feel more inspired and energized by the power of their imagination. Brené Brown, author of “Daring Greatly,” wrote: “This book changed me. ‘Creative Confidence’ is that rare combination of thought leadership, soulful storytelling, and real-life exercises that inspires you to reclaim your creative passion and courage. I feel braver already.”
[ Want to make better decisions? Read 4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide, by CTO Sanjay Malhotra. ]