Editor’s note: “Power Skills” is a 12-part series with one article posted monthly exploring the nontechnical tools today’s health care facilities professionals need to succeed and excel in their career goals. See more articles from the series here

It is a cliché to start an article about leadership styles with quotes from sports coaches. Only the hackiest of writers would give in to such a tired trope.

But are you aware of a person so admired that Harry Belafonte played him in film? It’s American college football coach Eddie Robinson, who once said, “Leadership, like coaching, is fighting for the hearts and souls of [people] and getting them to believe in you.” And since we’re here, I’d like to mention world-renowned starer and college basketball coach Pat Summit, who once said, “In the absence of feedback, people will fill in the blanks with a negative. They will assume you don't care about them or don't like them.”  And then there’s amateur comedian and professional basketball coach Steve Kerr, who once said, “There’s a lot of different styles that can work. You have to base it on your own personnel.”  

Each of these amazing leaders taught scores of women and men how to define a goal and then actualize its attainment. They understood that great leadership is built from several different skill sets, including having emotional intelligence, being inspiring and motivating, and instilling personal and group discipline. All of us, whether leading a team or inspiring colleagues to follow our suggestions, can work to brush up our leadership “power skill.”  

Improving your leadership skills is vital

There is no denying that the world of work is changing, no matter your profession. Whether those drivers are economic, social or technological, the way that we perform our work will rapidly change over the next decade. In this time of vast transformation, the ability to support and direct groups of people to respond positively to that transformation has never been more important. 

As artificial intelligence and automation is predicted to perform 69% of managers’ routine work, it will be incredibly important that managers focus on improving in the functions of their roles that cannot be automated or computed away. Providing motivation, exhibiting empathy and driving innovation are key activities that managers can work on, resulting in hard ROI for their organization. In fact, the workplace thought leadership nonprofit Catalyst found in a recent study that 61% of employees report being more innovative with “highly empathetic” senior leaders, and 76% report being more engaged.

Figuring out your leadership type

There are many ways to be a leader. Your choice of leadership style is often impacted by your previous experiences of others’ leadership. Have you ever found yourself saying,“Wow, I want to be just like them,” or, “Wow, I never want to be just like them.”  

One dichotomy to consider when defining your leadership style is whether you want to be a hard leader or a soft leader. A 2020 article in Chief Learning Officer magazine describes the two different approaches.  

The article describes soft leadership as a style that:

  • Emphasizes persuasion; 
  • Focuses on transformation;
  • Emphasizes soft power;
  • Focuses on soft tactics;
  • Adopts transformational, democratic, servant and authentic leadership styles;
  • Is others-centered;
  • Works to change the organizational culture;
  • Thinks outside the box;
  • Is creative, collaborative, organic and long-term focused;
  • Takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but where they ought to be; and
  • Focuses on strategies.

The article describes hard leadership as a style that: 

  • Emphasizes pressure; 
  • Focuses on tasks;
  • Focuses on hard tactics; 
  • Adopts transactional and autocratic styles of leadership; 
  • Is self-centered;
  • Works within the organizational culture;
  • Thinks within the box; 
  • Is competitive, data-driven and short-term focused; 
  • Takes people where they want to go; and 
  • Focuses on processes.

Good leaders choose a style that suits their strengths. Great leaders lean on their strengths and work on their weaknesses to learn how to leverage both styles when appropriate. Sometimes it pays to be like television character Ted Lasso. Other times, it pays to be like Led Tasso.

Cultivating leadership power skills in yourself and your team

Sport coaches “Papa Bear” HallasJill Ellis and Bill Russell aside, most people aren’t born great leaders. Leadership skills are mentored and grown, hopefully by strong leaders that one interacts with earlier in their career. Whether you are a current leader or strive to be one, there are a number of activities that can help train those leadership power skill muscles.  

2023 article on Indeed.com provides a list of 15 leadership activities you and your team can do to cultivate those skills. Two stand out as activities that everyone can benefit from experiencing, don’t require a lot of resources and don’t involve anyone getting hurt from a mistimed trust fall. 

  • Active listening challenge. Have each group participant stand in front of group members and read a different story, which you can produce or ask the speakers to produce. Include questions for the speakers to ask following their presentation. It's the audience's job to practice active listening during each individual reading. After each participant has finished their story, have them call on audience members at random to recall certain facts or events that occurred in the story. This activity helps people to learn better listening tactics.
  • Your favorite manager. This activity helps to identify admirable qualities that are valuable to employees when it comes to those who lead them. Have six willing participants read from notecards that describe a manager persona that you’ve created prior to the activity. Have the remaining participants work together to voice the positive and negative aspects of each persona and rate them from worst to best. This helps to identify the leadership traits and styles that work best for your team.

Imparting wisdom

One cliché that is worse than referencing a bunch of sports coaches in an article about leadership would be to end the article with a bunch of quotations from transformational world leaders. Only the hackiest of writers would give in to such a tired trope.

And so, in closing, remember the words of waterslide fan Napoleon Bonaparte who once said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Hearken the words of saltpeter advocate Abigail Adams who stated that, “Great necessities call forth great leaders.”  Or consider the words of tripe enthusiast Nelson Mandela, who professed that, “A leader is like a shepherd. ... They stay behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” All good words to live and lead by.