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The 11 Cs of soft leadership – the leadership style for the digital age

Soft leadership is a blend of courageous leadership, thought leadership, servant leadership and inspirational leadership and is the leadership style for the digital era says ThePeopleSpace's new contributor, professor MS Rao

Soft leadership

When you look at leaders like Booker T Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Mikhail Gorbachev and Dalai Lama, there is a common thread connecting all of them ― soft leadership. They are all soft leaders who silently performed and led the people towards accomplishing their dreams. They have character, charisma, conscience, conviction, courage, communication, compassion, commitment, consistency, consideration and contributed extensively towards society and made a difference in the lives of others.

What is 'soft leadership'?

Soft leadership is leading through soft skills and people skills. It blends soft skills, hard skills and leadership. It emphasises the significance of precious human resources. It helps in managing the emotions, egos and feelings of the people successfully. It focuses on the personality, attitude, and behaviour of the people, and calls for making others feel more important. It is an integrative, participative, relationship and behavioral leadership model adopting tools such as persuasion, negotiation, recognition, appreciation, motivation, and collaboration to accomplish the tasks effectively.

Soft leadership is not a submissive leadership or a lame duck leadership but an assertive leadership where soft leaders adopt pleasing and polite communication to execute the tasks

Soft leadership is not a submissive leadership or a lame duck leadership but an assertive leadership where soft leaders adopt pleasing and polite communication to execute the tasks. It is a blend of courageous leadership, thought leadership, servant leadership and inspirational leadership. Succinctly, soft leadership can be defined as the process of setting goals; influencing people through persuasion; building strong teams; negotiating them with a win-win attitude; respecting their failures; handholding them; motivating them constantly; aligning their energies and efforts; recognising and appreciating their contribution in accomplishing organisational goals and objectives with an emphasis on soft skills. It is based on the right mindset, skill set, and toolset.

The 11 Cs of soft leadership

Leadership basically depends on three aspects — how you communicate with others; how you make decisions; and how you take action. When you can execute these three activities effectively you become a successful leader. However, to evolve as a soft leader, you must communicate with an emphasis on soft skills; make decisions by blending your head, heart and gut; and take action keeping the ground realities and goals in your view without compromising task-orientation. There are 11 Cs that constitute soft leadership. They are: character, charisma, conscience, conviction, courage, communication, compassion, commitment, consistency, consideration and contribution. It is highly challenging for people to cultivate these 11 characteristics. However, if people possess more than six traits they get into the fold of soft leadership.

The 11 Cs of soft leadership

Soft Leadership is an ideal leadership in the digital era

Soft leadership is the best fit for the digital age. It helps lead knowledge workers effectively. Previously there were more manual workers who needed various leadership styles. However, in the present rapid changing digital scenario, the knowledge workers need a different leadership style — soft leadership style. The knowledge workers are ambitious, intelligent and tech savvy. They have totally different expectations and aspirations than their predecessors. They have an advanced mindset, toolset and skillset gained through unique professional experiences. And soft leadership is the ideal fit for their needs.

Employees are more diverse than ever, and this offers both opportunities and threats. Opportunities include creativity and innovation to improve products and services; and threats include looking at differences, not similarities. Hence, we must convert this threat into an opportunity by celebrating diversity in the workplace. It also calls for unique leadership style that brings employees into one common platform to achieve the organisational goals and objectives.

Soft leadership is the future leadership

Stephen R Covey once remarked: “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” Globally the philosophy of ‘employees first, customers second, and shareholders third’ is gaining momentum. Keeping this philosophy in view, the global organisations need leaders who can navigate their organisations through a network of relationships. Presently the days of positional power work less and referent power works more. Above all, the global organisations must be networked, flat, flexible and diverse. Hence, soft leadership can work for any company and country regardless of its size or budget.

The days of command-and-control leadership don’t work anymore. What works presently is trust-and-track leadership. As the world is changing rapidly, the knowledge, skills and abilities essential for employees are changing rapidly. The employees are reinventing themselves to keep pace with the rapid changes in technologies. Additionally, they are more focused on their careers, and are ready to sacrifice their families to fast-track their careers. Their expectations and aspirations are rising. Hence, leaders at the top must reinvent with their leadership styles, tools and techniques to lead their employees in this digital age.

Exploring soft leadership helps greatly for the leaders to satisfy all stakeholders to achieve organisational excellence and effectiveness.

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