Leader Interpersonal and Influence Skills: The Soft Skills of Leadership

Human Resource Management International Digest

ISSN: 0967-0734

Article publication date: 7 October 2014



Rao, M.S. (2014), "Leader Interpersonal and Influence Skills: The Soft Skills of Leadership", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 22 No. 7. https://doi.org/10.1108/HRMID.04422gaa.003



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Leader Interpersonal and Influence Skills: The Soft Skills of Leadership

Article Type: Suggested reading From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 22, Issue 7

Ronald E. Riggio and Sherylle J. Tan, Routledge, 2013, ISBN: 9780415842327

Ronald E. Riggio and Sherylle J. Tan’s edited book Leader Interpersonal and Influence Skills: the Soft Skills of Leadership explores different models, conceptualizations and measures of soft skills that are so important for effective leadership. These include communication skills, persuasion skills, political savvy and the emotional abilities used by leaders to inspire and motivate followers toward the accomplishment of goals.

The book emanates from the two-day 21st Kravis-de Roulet leadership conference, which brought together scholars working in this area. The intent of the conference, and of this edited volume, is to increase understanding of the interpersonal and influence skills of the leader, to highlight research on the topic and to provide clear, research-based guidelines for the development of leadership skills. Chapter authors are experts in their respective areas. Each section of the book is introduced by an editor-authored chapter reviewing the specific topic area in brief.

The book argues that history is replete with examples of leaders who, together with their groups, have influenced and directed the course of social change in a significant way. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela successfully led social movements to eradicate oppression in the form of colonization, racial segregation and apartheid. Nobel peace-prize laureates Rigoberta Menchu and Aung San Suu Kyi have, respectively, called world attention to discrimination in Guatemala and political repression in Burma, and continue to champion social change.

The book outlines the research of Harvard psychologist George Miller, who discovered in 1956 that our ability to process information in working memory is limited by an important constraint. We can retain only up to seven, eight or nine items at a time. He called this dynamic the “law of seven plus or minus two.”

In addition, those seven things are not retained for long. Working memory is interrupted every 10 or so minutes by fatigue or distraction. A portion of what was retained in the previous working-memory cycle is then lost. In other words, incoming information replaces existing information in our working memories.

The implication for leaders communicating information is both simple and profound. Most of the content that is communicated to followers will not be retained longer than a few minutes. Given that leaders are influencing their followers to embrace certain values, behaviors and decision-making guidelines, this lack of retention in short-term memory becomes a critical problem.

The book suggests that employees leave organizations because managers or leaders fail to treat them with dignity and respect. This is why most would prefer to work for a “lovable fool” than a “competent jerk.”

Leaders can improve their non-verbal expression of leadership through training. Training in charismatic non-verbal communication through, for example, facial expressions, body gestures, eye contact and an animated voice tone results in more effective leaders. So, too, does visionary or inspirational verbal-content communication such as articulating a vision using metaphors.

Women and men exhibit different non-verbal behavior in leadership positions. Men use more expansive body positions, speak more, use a louder voice and interrupt others more frequently than do women. However, female leaders have more expressive faces and maintain closer interpersonal distance than do male leaders.

Without loyal followers who are willing to work toward achieving a leader’s vision of social change for the in-group, a leader is like a lock without a key, a business without a customer, a captain without a vessel or a seed without soil.

Many business schools package soft skills as part of effective leadership. Some schools place much effort into integrating soft skills and leadership development across the curriculum as well as in activities such as internships, assessments and coaching opportunities. Many business schools have close relationships with recruiters who provide pressure to incorporate soft skills in the curriculum.

Colleges and universities are looking for ways to increase the interpersonal acumen of their technically trained students. For many of these schools, one issue with teaching soft skills is the assessment of learning. In many ways, technical skills are easier to assess than soft skills. Determining whether a training course has improved social intelligence, or the ability to connect with a client, is difficult but not impossible.

The book concludes that an MBA education or management training can help people to develop the cognitive, emotional and social-intelligence competencies needed to be outstanding leaders.

The book is useful for students, educators, learners, leaders and leadership scholars.

Reviewed by Professor M.S. Rao, MSR Leadership Consultants India, Hyderabad, India, available at: www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A16SKI0396UBRP, msrlctrg@gmail.com

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