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Empowering your employees to perform at their best is a key aspect of your role as a manager. It ensures that the company, with the collective effort of its employees, achieves its short-term and long-term goals.

However, employee management is not as straightforward as it sounds. To be an effective leader, you’ll need to develop the following hard and soft skills and apply them to your leadership style:

1. Digital literacy

Digital literacy is one of the most important skills a leader should have. We live in the internet age — and a leader who doesn’t have a basic understanding of technology is virtually inexcusable.

Businesses are digitizing most — or at least some — of their operations and leaders should set the tone by embracing these changes. It can make the transition to new workplace technologies smoother thereby empowering employees to continue building their skillset. Some areas technology is being leveraged in are:

  • Customer support
  • Digital marketing
  • Financial management
  • Sales
  • Team collaboration

With it being so intertwined with business operations, understanding technology is crucial to staying relevant and gaining a competitive advantage. For instance, if you are considering a remote work model for your business, overseeing employees and projects will be a lot trickier. Fortunately, there are dozens of communication platforms that make collaboration more efficient. As a leader, it’s your duty to understand how to operate these tools and how they will benefit your team.

2. Project management

Project management involves a combination of hard and soft skills. While technical know-how on your end is important, you may not be as hands-on as project leaders. However, where your expertise is required is in knowing how to delegate tasks effectively — otherwise, projects will fall apart even before they begin.

As you delegate, keep these points in mind:

  • Understand what each project entails — specifically the skills or expertise required.
  • Know the intricacies of a project. This will help you decide who best suits each task.
  • Provide clear instructions when you delegate. This will ensure your employees have proper guidance in carrying out a task.
  • Employ feedback loops. An exchange of constructive criticism will improve the success of the next project. Be specific when you give feedback and be open to receiving feedback on your task delegation skills.

3. Strategic communication

Words are very powerful — they offer information, guidance, assurance and inspiration amongst others. That makes communication one of the most important skills you need for effective employee management.

Here are a few tips on effective communication that we think bear repeating:

  • Be an active listener. Communication should never be a one-way street. When you listen, you gain insight into your employees’ wants and needs, a shift in perspective and access to different opinions. All of these combined can turn you into a better decision maker.
  • Take note of your body language. Non-verbal cues can undermine your overall message. Maintain eye contact to establish trust, keep your arms uncrossed to demonstrate openness, and relax your shoulders and fists to minimize tension.
  • Get personal. You don’t have to dive deep into personal topics but showing some vulnerability will increase your employees’ trust in you. Perhaps you can talk about how you overcome struggles or your personal goals — whatever topic you choose, you may be viewed more favourably which in turn will motivate your employees.
  • Adapt and adjust. Communication styles are not one-size-fits-all. Some people respond to a direct tone, while others need more buttering up. It’s important to adjust how you communicate depending on who you’re communicating with.
  • Be kind. Kindness goes a long way in the workplace. Treat everyone with respect and fairness in order to build trust.
  • Listen to feedback and implement changes. Listening is one thing but putting feedback into visible change is the next step. To make your employees feel heard, it’s important to apply the feedback they’re giving.
  • Understand what makes people tick. Words can motivate people to do things beyond their comfort zone. In order to do that, you need to be able to put yourself in another person’s place and understand what drives them. This is called empathy — another must-have skill that we’ll discuss next.

4. Empathy

Many business journals have hailed empathy as the most important soft skill in a leader. By definition, empathy allows something beyond a basic understanding of another person’s emotions — it allows you to share in the feelings of another. In other words, it’s the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Other than learning what drives behaviour, empathy is key to employee management because you become more attuned to people’s needs as well as their struggles. This is something many leaders fail to notice.

If your employee is displaying low productivity at work, get to the root of the problem. Keep in mind that stress can negatively impact a person’s physical health which can very easily seep into their work life. By applying empathy, you can offer to ease their workloads or even direct them to financial support programs.

Here are some starting steps to developing your empathy skills:

  • Encourage open communication. You can be the best listener in the world and get nowhere if no one is actually talking. Initiate the conversation and try to earn the trust of your employees. They may start opening up more once you demonstrate it yourself.
  • Ask how you can help them. Most employees would be embarrassed to ask their managers for help. Take the opportunity to ask them directly about how you can help them. Something as simple as providing flexible working arrangements can be a huge help for a lot of people.
  • Be patient. Practice patience when dealing with difficult situations. This will make your employees feel welcome and encourage them to improve things on their end.

5. Conflict management

Every workplace experiences the occasional conflict, whether it’s between coworkers or any other stakeholder of the company. Your job is to mediate and resolve it.

To do this effectively, consider these key elements:

  • Respect for each party. Say you have two employees who can’t get along on a project. They each have their own ideas of how they think it should go, resulting in a conflict. First, demonstrate respect for each individual’s perspectives. Play your outsider’s perspective as an advantage and remain objective. Help them see how one way might actually be better than the other. At the end of the day, your job is to make sure that they come to an agreement with no hurt feelings.
  • Trust and integrity. When an employee confides in you, it’s important that you keep that information to yourself. Only bring in those who need to be in the loop when it’s necessary, such as a human resources professional.
  • Teamwork. Picking favourites is the worst way to go about teamwork. You are a team after all and any sign of conflict can break that. As a leader, you need to set a culture of respect and collaboration.

6. Empowerment

All of these combined can lead to a more empowered workforce. Empowering leaders can help cultivate loyalty, commitment and higher productivity. That means you won’t have to micromanage because you know that you are leading a strong and competent team.

Lead your employees to success.

In truth, the list of soft and hard skills leaders should possess is long. If you ask any other expert, they might just provide you with a different list of must-have skills for different situations. However, digital literacy, project management, strategic communication, empathy, conflict management and empowerment are non-negotiable skills for employee management. Leaders who possess this suite of skills not only lead effectively but also have the trust and admiration of their employees.