How Important are Soft Skills for a C-Suite Exec?

Team of executives discussing business strategies at briefing

The ability to communicate is arguably one of the most important attributes of any successful person — being able to get your point across clearly, concisely, and more to the point — persuasively.

In life sciences, as in many other highly skilled industries, we often look first at technical ability, experience, and education first, but it’s the soft skills that elevate some above the rest.

Effective leadership, in fact, depends on soft skills.

Soft skills provide a basis from which executives are able to lead through others–in essence, being able to motivate and persuade those they lead to carry out their vision for the betterment of the organization. You might say that it’s an exercise in storytelling as much as it is in leadership. Your teams need to be engaged with the plot line in order to move that story along to its ultimate conclusion.

Soft skills analysis

Let’s look at some of the essential soft skills a c-suite exec should have in his or her arsenal:

Communication: speaking the language

In any life sciences organization, there are many departments whose jobs are so technical that they actually have their own language, their own terminology. It’s the way they communicate among themselves, but another department may have little understanding of their jargon, relying instead on their own inter-disciplinary lingo to communicate to their own team and peers.

As a leader in the c-suite, a working knowledge of the jargon used by each department is necessary, but even more important is the ability to translate that information into plain English that anybody can understand.

Why is this important? As a leader, a c-suite exec is in a position where they need to be able to take what is happening in any given department at any given time and relay concerns and issues in a way that is understandable to the rest of the executive team — and also to be able to speak directly to the stakeholders who are at the heart of the issue.

Empathize, listen, understand, visualize

Beyond the ability to understand and communicate between teams, a c-suite exec needs to be able to empathize. This is a key attribute in the process that will ultimately lead to a successful resolution of the issue at hand. Without the ability to truly empathize, there is no impetus to find a solution beyond the obvious.

Our top talent in the c-suite does not get there by being unapproachable, rigid, or closed-minded. The leaders we look to for the guidance and vision we need are not only easily understood, they are good listeners. They are intuitive, they encourage open dialogue, and are pivotal in encouraging collaboration and productivity. They are as transparent as they are personable.

While these are qualities we aspire to at the management level as well, they are traits that most c-suite executives have mastered. They possess a combination of practical and theoretical knowledge and can put an analytical slant on a situation while also applying best practices, employing a combination of these things to arrive at an equitable solution.

As opposed to a manager who may be operating on a reactive or gut-level basis, c-suite executives must function at a higher level, a place where opportunity springs from adversity and solutions are not just of the break-fix variety, they are sustainable and far-reaching.

Rather than being dependent on their technical know-how, their ability to hear what’s being said and to envision a path through to the other side is what sets a true leader apart. What gets them there is their ability to listen, to empathize, to analyze, and to persuasively communicate what needs to be done

Diversity of experience

All organizations have a very specific culture. If the culture is high-performing, it’s important to be able to maintain its functionality clear to the c-suite. This means that their leaders need to be able to recognize that culture and provide a habitat where it can thrive and grow.

Even if an executive is coming from a completely different niche, a different industry or a different country altogether, their ability to articulate and embody the values and the culture of an organization are what is going to support it best. Knowing what motivates employees is the key here, and having the insight to recognize what needs to be said or done to continue to motivate them brings value that resonates throughout every department.

Adaptability: the final frontier

Having mastery over these soft skills is a common thread we see in the c-suite. These are skills that will rise to the fore in times of change–and if anything is a constant in today’s world, it’s change. The ability to foresee the change that’s coming and then to gently steer the organization and its people towards that future demonstrate true leadership.

While some changes are subtle, others can be life-altering. This could be due to sweeping regulatory restructuring at the government level, internal or external financial trends, or technological transformation.

Any of these things could cause widespread disruption and fear that the mission is not sustainable. This is a situation that illustrates just how important soft skills truly are in the c-suite, as an effective leader can help brace for the change and gradually steer their organization in a positive direction, using persuasion, empathy, and their innate ability to tell the story of how all will be overcome.

How Pact and Partners can help

While soft skills may be viewed by some as being intangible, your executive recruiter can play a significant role in helping to identify these qualities in potential executives. Call or request a quote today.

Pact & Partners