It is an understatement to say that we live in a rapidly evolving society. The 4th Industrial Revolution and the advent of 5IR have changed all the accepted ways of understanding the world. And nowhere is this more so than in the art and practice of leadership. The rapid changes in technology have made the world a global village. The Covid epidemic has meant we have to communicate and run our organisations in a different way. People from diverse backgrounds and communities have to work creatively and productively within one organisation. Hierarchical command and control no longer work – the world of artificial intelligence, big data and machine learning requires a very different way of managing. It is not enough to re-tread our old models of leadership. We need new insights into how to lead in this connected maelstrom of modern living.
Prof MS Rao has applied his mind to this and has created the concept and practice of Soft Leadership. Prof Rao is a leadership expert and an international executive coach, educator, author, speaker, and consultant. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. His vision is to build one million students as global leaders by 2030.
According to Prof Rao, soft leaders adopt tools such as influence, persuasion, negotiation, motivation, recognition, appreciation, and collaboration for the collective good. This style calls upon leaders to make a difference in the lives of others. And this is very much in keeping with the worldview of 5IR.
Your immediate response to this might be, but I do this anyway! Let’s explore soft leadership in more detail and understand why it is different and relevant.
Soft leaders lead by combining soft skills and people skills. Soft leadership is a blend of soft skills, hard skills, and leadership. It is an integrative, participative, relationship, and behavioural approach to leadership. Soft leaders rely on persuasion, negotiation, recognition, appreciation, motivation, and collaboration to get things done. Here are Prof Rao’s thoughts on the topic.
Soft leadership is not a wishy-washy type of leadership. It treats colleagues and teams with respect and consideration. It is assertive leadership where soft leaders adopt polite communication to get the tasks executed. As Prof Rao puts it: “….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; recognizing and appreciating their contribution in accomplishing organizational goals and objectives with an emphasis on soft skills. It is based on the right mindset, skillset, and toolset.” Here is a broad oversight on why the time for Soft Leadership has come. Prof Rao continues: “These are the days of communication, negotiation, facilitation, coordination, collaboration, recognition, and appreciation to get the tasks executed successfully. People expect the leaders to be polite, pleasant, assertive, and supportive.” Soft leadership can be better understood by sharing a quick overview of the 11 Cs of Leadership:
- Character – having integrity and honesty
- Charisma – make others feel important and valuable
- Conscience – the courage to stab duo against wrong dealings
- Conviction – unwillingness to compromise
- Courage – stand by your values in spite of pressure
- Communication – magic words inspire others to do great things
- Compassion – kindness is not weakness, it speaks to strength and resolution.
- Commitment – never give up
- Consistency – respected leaders are predictable, responsible, and credible.
- Consideration – recognising and appreciating the contribution of others
- Contribution – add value to others
You will find more information here. Soft leadership is not self-centred but is centred on others. Soft leadership emphasizes a concern for people, i.e., on employees who are the precious human resources. Hence, soft leadership is the need of the hour to give a soft touch to people who in turn give a real touch to customers through dedication and discipline. Leaders spend most of their time with people. Hence, they must care for the needs and concerns of their team to establish credibility and influence them, and to lead from the front. Above all, it is the age of partnership, not followership. There is a bigger, more noble dimension to embracing Soft Leadership, one we should not forget. We give the closing comments to Prof Rao:
“We have enough leadership styles such as autocratic, democratic, delegative, transactional, transformational, servant, and situational to name a few. It is time to adopt this new leadership style. Hence, let us explore and adopt a soft leadership style to take mankind (sic) to greater heights of glory. Let us hand over (sic) better society to our next generations so that they can be proud of us. Let us become good ancestors. To conclude in the words of Woodrow Wilson, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”