What’s that “X-Factor” that really makes the difference in a leader?l-x-factor

What do we often list as the necessary qualifications?

We often look for the smart person with the degrees. But you only get those if you measure up. In order to get into college and grad school you have to have a certain GPA and SAT and GRE scores. If that graduate school is a seminary you may have to add to that certain competencies in Greek and possibly Hebrew and German or Latin. Not easy! Then there are the graduation requirements. Not everyone is going to persist until graduation. Those who do are no doubt smart people. Their IQ or “intelligence quotient” is probably pretty high. Do they make the best leaders?

Nope. There are plenty of people out there who are smart yet are not the most effective leaders. In other words, they know their stuff cold. They can teach it and talk it and do it. But as leaders who by definition are “an individual (who) influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northouse) they are just not effective. In fact some say that IQ only accounts for 20% of career success. In other words people have to know their stuff at some level but a whopping 80% of success is from something else.

What is the “something else” that is needed for these smart people? What is the X-factor that will make the difference for them to be good leaders? It has to do with what are called “soft skills.” Soft skills are those interpersonal traits like social skills, communication skills, courtesy, flexibility, empathy, work ethic, professionalism. They even include such things as common sense, a good attitude, integrity, reliability, personal habits, time management and the ability to work with a team. These are the things that don’t depend on acquired knowledge. We joke about the kindergartener who is criticized for “not playing well with others” but that is exactly what we are talking about! The X-Factor is the soft skills which definitely includes high emotional intelligence or “EQ.” Do you even know what that is or is that new to you?

Some familiar sayings capture the value of these soft skills: “They are book smart but not people smart (or street smart).” “We don't care how much you know until we know how much you care.” “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.” “CEO’s are hired for their intellect and business expertise but are fired for their lack of emotional intelligence.”

The so-called soft skills are the X-factor that makes a huge difference in a leader. Sure there are leadership skills that we can talk about from the ability to inspire to the ability to analyze and think strategically and solve problems. But ultimately leaders who work through issues and problems and move the organization forward do that with people! If there is a gap in the ability to work with people then a leader (and their followers and organizations) are in trouble! Another way to put it is if those soft skills are weak or are perceived to be lacking then it won’t really matter how much technical expertise is filling the leader’s brain!

To use another expression, soft skills are where the leadership “rubber meets the road.” Without it their leadership will crash and burn! The good news though is that while IQ is more or less static, EQ can be learned!

Some coaching questions and next steps:

  1. Have the courage to do a 360 review and ask people what you are good at and what you need to work on. Does anything hint at soft skills?
  2. What about your relationship with people do you need to finally admit to and work on?
  3. How can you step up your professionalism and integrity by improving returning phone calls, emails and texts?
  4. How can you more intentionally invite, involve and empower others?
  5. Do you need to dress in a way that signals (to you) and others that you are serious about what you do?
  6. How can you listen more and talk less?
  7. Where might there be incongruity between what you say and what you do that can be corrected?

This is a huge blind spot for many in leadership but wisdom will realize it is the X-Factor that makes THE difference.

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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, scottgress@me.com or scottgress.com

"Helping leaders be more productive - less controlling"

Leadership and the X-Factor

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