By DeVry University
Interested in a career in business? You're probably exploring degree programs that can help grow your knowledge in areas like accounting, operations and marketing. You might even be thinking about the hands-on, technical skills you’ll add to your future resume. But have you thought about "soft skills"? Communication skills, business acumen and adaptability are all important to cultivate if you aspire to become a leader in your field.
In addition to having strong technical skills and educational backgrounds, successful professionals constantly seek out ways to improve their leadership qualities and expand their personal brands. See how these 13 professional attributes can become some of your most effective tools for success:
1. Empathy at Work
Empathy is the ability to recognize emotions in other individuals and to understand the perspectives of others in a situation.
Why is empathy one of the key tools for sucess in the workplace? When you can empathize with someone else, you can better resolve workplace conflicts; improve relationships with customers, clients and coworkers; and build productive teams.
So how can you develop empathy at work? According to Psychology Today, you should:
- Give your full attention when listening to others, particularly to their interests and needs.
- Listen without arguing, disputing or asking direct questions right away.
Talk about yourself only when connecting to something the other person is saying.
- Ask questions that help you learn more about what the person is feeling.
Empathy is something you can put into action every day as a respected leader.
2. Ability to Leverage Social Networking for Professional Growth
Where do executives communicate, demonstrate thought leadership, network and engage in lifelong learning?
Social media is an important technology tool for business professionals. And one of the most pertinent to business life – LinkedIn – can be a great place to make connections and build your network.
A strong network is key to business success, and building one in 2023 means using social networks like LinkedIn effectively. Here are a few ways you can maximize the benefits of professional social networking platforms:
- Master video sharing. According to Social Media Today, “research has also shown that LinkedIn users are 20x more likely to share a video on the platform than any other type of post.” If you want to be viewed as a thought leader in your field, start by sharing relevant video content that your connections may find valuable.
- Leverage technology to engage in lifelong learning through programs that help you level up specific skills – or brush up on what you already know. For example, LinkedIn Learning offers online training on everything from design to web development, coding, marketing, small business ownership, project management and more.
- Demonstrate thought leadership across all social channels – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram – by offering learnings, tips and information around your education or work.
3. Strong Communication Skills
Don't underestimate the importance of communication in business. According to Forbes, communication is key to:
- Preventing and resolving conflict on the job.
- Building trust.
- Building relationships.
- Improving productivity.
- Driving creativity.
If your communication skills are not yet up to par, there are ways to practice in your everyday personal and work lives. Here are some strategies outlined by Forbes:
- Ask good questions.
- Summarize during a conversation to ensure you understand properly.
- Use short sentences.
- Listen to others before expressing your opinion.
- Express your point of view in brief, bite size chunks that people can remember.
Enhancing your communication skills can not only improve your leadership capabilities, but can also help you stand out as you aspire towards higher-level positions that are critical to business planning.
Using creativity in the workplace can help you develop new processes and solutions. Creativity in leadership is the ability to innovate actionable ideas and inspire others to solve problems− both individually and as a team − using new approaches to generate business plans, restructure a work environment or make meaningful professional connections with other people. Here are a few more reasons why creative leadership is important, from the Career Guide of employment website Indeed:
- Promotes problem solving: When your team encounters an obstacle, leading them with a creative mindset can help them resolve the issue efficiently.
- Encourages a positive work environment: The creative process can inspire people to voice their perspectives and connect with each other, so being a creative leader may help you develop a constructive culture of belonging.
- Helps you navigate change: By using creativity in leadership, you can innovate new ideas that align with best practices in your industry. A creative mindset may also help prepare you for future changes in your field.
5. Positive Attitude
Part of being a professional means maintaining a positive, “can-do” attitude in the workplace. Maintaining a positive attitude can help improve your overall performance and increase the likelihood of positive outcomes. A positive attitude can be extremely effective in team building because individuals are going to be more likely to rally around a leader who demonstrates positivity when faced with challenges. Going beyond the leader’s attitude, it can also impact the behavior and performance of others, improving employee morale in the office. In that regard you might say positivity is contagious. Anyone who’s ever had a boss with a cynical and overall negative attitude would likely know the difference.
Professionals recognize the importance and short-term benefits of maintaining focus to improve the quality of their work, get it done more efficiently and maintain productivity. According to author and consultant Gordon Tredgold, being more focused can help improve clarity and decision making and allow us to be more effective. He also identifies these four additional long-term benefits of improved focus:
- Builds momentum: Improving focus helps increase your effectiveness, which in turn helps you to make more and faster progress.
- Reduces stress: When we lack focus, we can become overwhelmed. Often, it’s not a matter of having too much to do and too little time, it's more that we don't know where to start, and this is what can create stress.
- Increases engagement: Leaders who are well focused, can articulate what the goals are and how they are to be achieved can keep their teams motivated and engaged.
- May attract more clients: Sales professionals who are focused can engage better with potential clients and more effectively articulate the business solutions they’re offering.
Effective leaders possess self-confidence and demonstrate it in their own abilities and the way they nurture the abilities of others. You might ask, what’s the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence? While the attributes are often used synonymously, self-confidence differs from self-esteem, according to another Indeed Career Guide article. While self-esteem refers to one’s ability to value themselves, self-confidence refers to our positive feelings and sense of capability when it comes to completing certain actions, making it a great tool for success.
Other examples of self-confidence in a professional setting might include:
- Doing the right thing, despite what others might think of you
- Having confidence to try new challenges
- Identifying your own weaknesses, accepting them and figuring out ways to overcome them
- Accepting praise for your achievements
- Having the confidence to express your thoughts and ideas during meetings
Discipline is an important leadership trait. Disciplined leaders are known for routine, structure and attention to detail, which can be incredibly beneficial to any leader, but can also be sometimes misinterpreted as controlling if they’re not careful. Self-disciplined leaders are particularly good at helping their colleagues understand their goals and showing them what success looks like. They have an ability to avoid or cut through clutter and chaos, recognize errors and mistakes and bring structure to business processes. Why are disciplined leaders important? Characteristics of the disciplined leader might include:
- Precision: An eye for detail and an appreciation for clear, sell-defined processes.
- Routine: A focus on timelines and deadlines, and a dislike for surprises and errors.
- Structure: A need for order and the feeling of being in control.
Leaders with integrity possess a strong moral compass that drives their ability to make fair and balanced decisions. Individuals with personal integrity are often widely respected because they adhere to ethical principles in the face of outside influences and difficult circumstances. Integrity is an essential leadership trait, and can be one of the more effective professional tools in a manager’s toolbox, because it can help set the tone for entire teams. Team members know that a leader with integrity can be trusted to do the right thing, even when no one is watching.
The power of optimism cannot be overstated. Optimistic leaders can maintain a positive outlook through changes and transitions, believing their company is moving forward toward a better future without dwelling on the past. They are more likely to plan ahead and anticipate challenges, rather than reacting negatively to them.
According to Lifehack.org optimistic leaders are likely to be:
- Solution-focused: The optimistic leader will always focus on finding the solution to a problem rather than dwelling on the issues causing it.
- Unafraid of failure: The optimist is confident in their decision making, accepts the reality of failure and the possibility of making mistakes, which he or she sees as learning opportunities.
- Great Communicators: Optimists are very comfortable communicating and sharing their desires for a better future or better solutions. They understand the importance of engaging and motivating others.
- Skillful in collaboration: Optimist leaders want their teams to be engaged and working together toward a shared vision.
- Successful in their mindset: The optimist’s “glass half full” outlook makes them instinctively focus on the positive aspects of a situation, helping them to envision innovative solutions.
It’s safe to say that experience is something that all of us acquire throughout our personal and professional lives, but the experiences of others are also a powerful addition to your professional toolbox. Here are some examples of how experience, personal or otherwise, can be used in the various stages of a business:
- People with specific industry experience are often brought in to conduct market research and help you or other entrepreneurs build solid business plans.
- In later stages, you might interact with others in similar businesses to gain insights, based on their level of experience, and get an idea of what challenges and opportunities might lie ahead.
- Knowledgable professionals in your field might also be an excellent resource to help recruit and hire the right talent based on your goals.
- Later, you’re likely to use your own experience to leverage new opportunities – expanding into new markets, acquiring other businesses or working as a paid consultant.
Being prepared is all about putting in a bit of extra effort before the actual work, allowing you to be prepared for meetings, tasks and events before they’re due. Being prepared for meetings, for example, is crucial to your ability to perform at an optimal level. Here, your preparation might include gathering documents, presentations and other information that will be discussed by you or others, or sending information to participants in a pre-meeting email. You might begin preparing the day before or the morning of the meeting, going through the materials that will be presented and formulating questions and action plans. When the actual meeting takes place, it’s likely that your preparation efforts will pay off by allowing you to be more confident, less stressed and better able to focus on the contributions of other participants.
A Key Tool for Your Professional Toolbox: A Business Degree
As you grow in your career, you will be faced with situations every day that require you to leverage your professional toolbox. Whether you are practicing empathy, developing new connections or communicating with co-workers, a business degree or certificate can help you develop new tools for success, build on your existing strengths and pursue your goals. Learn more about online and on-campus programs at DeVry University and our Keller Graduate School of Management.