10 Soft Skills Business Leaders Need to Succeed

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10 soft skills that, if mastered, enable brand and business leaders to work with integrity, get things done, and ultimately get promoted.

When did it become okay to leave people hanging? To treat others poorly? To not follow through on commitments?

You hear a lot of talk these days about values, collaboration and leadership. But what do these words mean? I don’t think people really internalize what these words mean in their daily work and life. Instead, we give them lip service and then go on about our day.

Sometimes being more specific makes our conversations more actionable in our daily lives. So, here are 10 more specific, tangible skills to help us think more deeply about our own behaviors.

As marketing and business leaders, mastering these softer skills helps us rally and motivate cross-functional teams that don’t actually report directly to us. They help us navigate the corporate gauntlet, and are good tips for how to work with people in general including coworkers, vendors, customers and even our personal networks.


Negativity breeds more negativity. And I’ve never seen a single business scenario where being overtly negative is helpful or motivational.

Being positive doesn’t have to be big, fluffy talk. Many times it’s the little things. Your demeanor. Being welcoming. Framing things as opportunities. Not slamming people for mistakes, but instead offering help to make everyone better… together.

There’s one exception to negativity. If it’s important enough and you take your complaint directly to the person who has the power and authority to fix it, then go for it. But, you should still be careful about how you approach them and how you frame the situation. Always be constructive and respectful.


Reliability is a key component of your overall integrity. Above all, you should always do what you say you’re going to do. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s how you build trust. Conversely, not doing what you say you’ll do is the fastest way to erode trust.

In today’s fast and highly collaborative work environments, others are depending on you. And you cannot create a culture of empowerment without the firm expectation that each person play their part and follow through on their commitments.


Be on time. 90% of company cultures get this wrong. In too many cases it’s OK to start meetings late. The primary driver is often that we actually end previous meetings late due to a lack of a clear meeting objective, meeting plan and meeting leader.

There’s also a second component to timeliness. As a brand leader and change agent you must learn to pick and choose your battles. Not just which battles, but when.

Sometimes this means setting your personal desires aside and understanding when the organization is ready to take the next step. Patience is a virtue, and if you time things just right, you increase your chances of success.

One way to think about it is to try and push the organization just slightly faster or slower than it typically runs.


Learning never stops. Be a life-long learner and stay curious. Whether it’s taking classes or reading books, you can always get better. You’re never there. Increasing your curiosity will also help spark your creativity.

Humility helps. Every person you ever meet has something to teach you. Ask questions. Seek out experts. Seek out people who challenge you. Hear them.


Don’t just be organized… prioritize. Prioritization matters much more than a clean desk (although a clean desk does help). If you look at your to-do list, chances are only a small portion of the list will contribute meaningfully towards our larger goals.

Only a few things really matter each day or week (try 3 or less). Focus on those things. Everything else can wait. Where can you make the biggest impact? Say no, delegate, or delay everything else.


Objective-based thinking helps you in two ways. First, it helps you create goals and deadlines—a good thing. By starting with the objective, you can then break things (projects, deliverables) down into steps. Then assign owners and timing.

Second, the ability to see the end game first and work your way backwards is incredibly useful when it comes to strategy. This makes you sharper when you are working on things like research, creative and project briefs. Most importantly it helps you think through long-term business strategy.


Sometimes you have to just go and figure things out. Dig a little bit. Not always be told what to do and when to do it. Instead take goals, break them down and start asking questions. Can you come up with an initial perspective or pathway and then seek feedback on it?

That’s not to say you shouldn’t ask questions when needed. Especially if you are less experienced. But you can often get half way there on your own if you dig a little. That makes you look good and helps your manager out, too.


Most of us know the basic definition of empathy. Understand and share the feelings of others. Imagine if you were in their position. Imagine how they feel.

Even more fundamental is to recognize that people are important. You need to be human and recognize that your co-workers are human, too. Make people, their personal lives and families a priority. After all, why are we really here?

To make this one tangible you must show people that you value them. It can even be small things. Say thank you. Celebrate accomplishments, big and small. Take someone to lunch. Write a note. Hand out gift cards. Call instead of email. Smile and say good morning. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask them how they feel. What’s important to them?


Don’t fall in love. This applies to ideas, projects, products, plans, advertising—you name it. It never matters what you like. It only matters what will grow the business, and oftentimes there’s more than one good solution. Remain neutral.

Also, a lot of your work will be judged. Don’t take it personally. Be professional and find the mutually beneficial outcome. Seek to understand. But never internalize a judgment of an idea as a judgment of you personally.

So lighten up. Make your case, but also be flexible, brush it off and move on to the next thing when appropriate.


This one is a little more complex and can manifest itself in many ways. But here are two suggestions that will get you most of the way there: be friendly and respect lines of authority.

You can’t succeed in business hiding at your desk. There’s an art to making friends (allies) and avoiding making enemies. But you should remember to be friends without going too far. You don’t want to be perceived as disingenuous or purposely trying to garner political favor.

You should also remember that there are always “swim lanes” in the workplace. The general rule is to stay in your lane unless otherwise asked. Demonstrating respect for lines of authority is one of the most important ways to establish a good reputation. Don’t overly worry about things outside of your responsibility. Don’t be passive aggressive. Don’t go behind people’s backs.

If an issue is important enough that you need to make an exception and raise your hand, speak directly with the person who has the assigned authority (usually a project leader first). This can get complicated, so I would suggest reading 10 Ways Leaders Navigate Conflict for additional perspective.


In sum, the 10 soft skills above create a sense of integrity and establish your reputation. Put your actions through these lenses. Honestly ask yourself where you might be lacking. Where can you be better? Not just for others but for yourself? Where can you be more conscious in your daily work and interactions?

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