The Soft Side of Leadership // Positively Speaking // Mark Wilson

Excellent leaders must develop two sides of leadership: The Hard Side and the Soft Side.

In last week’s column, we examined the hard side of leadership. This is the aspect that calls us to make the difficult decisions which are necessary if the organization is going to move forward. It includes vision, structure, and growth. The hard side of leadership is the thrust that pushes us upward and forward.

Many “models” of leadership are the “hard side” types such as General Patton, Coach Lombardi, and Jack Welch. These men, all great leaders in their own right, should be viewed as the exception, however, rather than the model.

In the national bestseller, Good to Great, Jim Collins revealed an amazing discovery. Studying 28 companies that grew from mediocrity to greatness, he found that the CEO’s of these organizations were not the ego driven “larger than life” types. Instead, the companies were led by ordinary people who portrayed an extra dose of humility (accompanied with bulldog determination.)

Daniel Goleman, in Primal Leadership, said the same thing. The bombastic, brutal, win-at-any-costs leadership style is not helpful in the long run. Although it may accomplish temporary results, this pattern of leading won’t sustain growth. People don’t like dictators.

So there’s another side — the soft side of leadership — which must be developed. This is the relational part of leading effectively.

Whenever people are involved, it is vital to tend to relationships. People are more important than programs.

The soft side of leadership is more accurately called “Leading by Love” or, perhaps, “Servant hood.”

When we lead by love, we are in the business of building people rather than bossing them. Our focus is on helping others rather than using them. The climate is one of empowerment rather than control.

There are many people in leadership positions who do not understand this important fact. They have “over-developed” the hard side of leadership, while the soft side barely functioning. It’s not much fun to work for people like that.

How do you develop the soft side of leadership?

1. Choose to lead from beneath. Instead of viewing yourself as “over” your subordinates, why not switch it around? Think of them as “over” you! Your job, then, is to bless, encourage, inspire and help them in their tasks. This is the great leadership lesson Jesus was making when he picked up a towel and began to wash feet. Foot washing was not in his job description, but he wanted his disciples to understand that the path to greatness is through serving.

2. Think like a V.I.P. host. How would your behavior change if you viewed the people around you as genuine V.I.P.’s rather than just commoners. Actually, your family, friends and co-workers ARE Very Important People. In fact, they’re more important than the individuals you see on TV. They add tremendous value to your life. How are you treating your everyday V.I.P.’s? Are you looking at the people around you as 10’s, or have they shriveled down to 1’s, 2’s and 3’s?

3. Motivate, but don’t manipulate. Everybody needs to be inspired, encouraged and motivated — but we hate to be manipulated. There’s a big difference.
Motivation: I get you to do something for your benefit.
Manipulation: I get you to do something for my (selfish) benefit.

The big question here is simple. Are the people around me gaining through my relationship with them? Am I helping them? Stretching them? Blessing them? Lifting them? Do I bring energy into my relationships – or do I drain it away?

Some people bring joy wherever they go. Other folks bring joy when they go!

4. Know deeper to know better. If you know people more deeply, you will know better how to work beside them. For instance, each of our five children is different. Cathy and I are finding that the secret to good parenting discovering the key to each child’s heart. There is not a “cookie cutter” approach to parenting – or to any other kind of leadership. If we know them deeper, we will know better what to do.

Knowing deeper requires listening.

The path to good leadership is loving. The path to loving is understanding. The path to understanding is listening.

Make it your aim to enter every conversation with an “I’m here to hear” attitude, rather than “I’m here to tell.”

It’s the soft side of leadership that shows a heart of compassion. It is the necessary foundation for good morale the spirit of unity.

T.E.A.M. = Together, Everyone Achieves More

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