We’ve all worked under a bad boss at some stage in our career. And having an ineffective manager has all sorts of ramifications for the individuals involved, as well as the wider business. From stunted development opportunities to poor engagement, productivity issues and absenteeism – poor leadership is a scourge on modern business. 

Bad bosses are sadly not uncommon. But according to outspoken and widely-regarded leadership expert Simon Sinek, we shouldn’t lay blame on them… because no one is actually ever taught how to be an effective leader.

“One of the big challenges for leaders is that rarely are they taught how to lead and yet it’s a skill set like any other. If you’re an accountant, you learn how to do accounting. If you’re a salesperson, someone taught you how to sell … but usually, we don’t get taught leadership.”

Simon Sinek

So how can we help people become more effective leaders?

Like anything, leadership, and finding and fostering a unique leadership style, is a skill that must be learnt, practised and continually refined.

Sinek says, “It’s up to leaders to create the leadership climate, to set the tone, to establish that being empathetic, honest, patient – these things are the standard of how we do business, and people will follow suit.”

In fact, soft skills like those Sinek promotes as key for effective leaders have never been more important in business, and for the leaders in the drivers’ seat.

Businesses have long focussed on technical skills – the ‘how’ to do the job. But soft skills help effective leaders get to the ‘why’ and motivate the people around them to do those jobs more effectively.

More commonly labelled as “people” skills, soft skills – in the age of automation – are becoming more important than ever. Things like emotional intelligence and the ability to teach, connect with and motivate others, won’t ever be the work of machines or algorithms. And mastering such skills will be key to success, regardless of how much of a business, or individual jobs, is taken over by tech.

LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner says in the increasingly tech-heavy work environment, soft skills are now more important than knowing how to code. In fact, a recent study from Instructure found that when leaders cannot effectively communicate with their employees or help them to accomplish their career goals, those employees will simply leave the business. The cost of not having sound, and soft, leadership skills is too high to ignore.

According to Sinek, a lot of bosses need to get back to the basics of good leadership – fostering their listening skills, learning the art of effective confrontation, mastering feedback, as well as key humanity measures of patience and empathy.

“Business engagement is down, loyalty is down – a lot of young people have no desire to stick around for their whole career in one job. It’s not because they don’t care, it’s because the companies offer them no loyalty and no love. All parties have a role to play in any relationship … the difference [in business] is the leader is the one who goes first.”

In addition to promoting and fostering soft skills in our workplaces, Sinek has some other tips for becoming a better boss:

  1. Be a student. Effective leadership requires a desire to learn – if you want to be a better leader, you have to become a student of leadership.
  2. Tap into the need to lead. Good leaders have to want to lead. It’s not a path for everyone because leadership is not about making money or getting results; it’s about taking care of the people who do those things.
  3. Ask for help. Effective leaders are never too proud to reach out for help from those who have trodden the path before them.