19 Feb

Top 5 Soft Skills Mistakes Leaders Make

People sometimes believe that image consulting is only about visual appearance but that’s not true. Your image encompasses your whole persona and includes how you dress, behave, and speak. Recently I have gotten lots of calls from corporations that have just promoted someone who is extremely talented – but who lacks the soft skills needed to communicate effectively with their team.

So I decided to write this article because many professionals make these mistakes. Some are in large corporations, others are independent entrepreneurs managing only a few people, or they may work as community leaders on philanthropic boards and committees. Regardless of what your relationships happen to be, all of these principles apply. I’ve listed the top mistakes I observe as I work with leaders as their executive image consultant – plus some tips to help you evaluate and hone your own soft skills.

Mistake #1 – Leaders Selfishly Seek Security

Many leaders want to use their positions as a platform to selfishly showcase their expertise because in today’s world they may be afraid of losing their jobs to downsizing. When people on their team come up with a fabulous concept that gets implemented and is extremely successful, the designated leader wants to take all the credit. But real leadership – the kind that earns promotions to senior executive positions – requires that you become a platform and springboard for advancing your employees and team members, not yourself.

TIP: People love to work for confident leaders who are secure enough in their own abilities to give credit to the people on their teams. When you celebrate your team’s successes and give recognition to team members your superiors realize you know how to build and manage a talented high performance team. Trust me – all organizations seek that kind of gifted leader.

Mistake #2 – Leaders Don’t Let People See their Softer Side

It used to be that leaders kept their business and personal lives separate and compartmentalized. Today many leaders still do not talk about their personal lives because they may be introverted or just don’t feel comfortable discussing non-work related topics. But times have changed. Just look at all the people sharing their personal lives out on the social media sites.

TIP: People like working with people they can get to know and like, so allow your team to know you have a balanced life that extends beyond the office. Let them know what hobbies you enjoy in your off hours. If you enjoyed a weekend retreat or cheered your child to victory on the basketball court, share that. Another way to connect on a personal level is to share lessons you have learned along the way. It’s nice for your team members and employees to know that while you may be the boss now that you’ve also been in their shoes and have learned to turn setbacks into successes. People respect you more when you’re willing to share your softer human side.

Mistake #3 – Leaders Display Incongruence in Appearance, Behavior and Communication

Leaders often forget that they are constantly in the “leader spotlight,” and titles like CEO, Vice President, or Director don’t bestow instant respect. I’ve seen leaders disrespect their people by embarrassing them with harsh language in front of a group, and I’ve heard them communicate one message through their words while their body language says something completely different. Throughout my career I’ve seen leaders who dress inappropriately and then wonder why their people don’t dress in a polished fashion. I even had employees in one of my professional presence seminars tell me that I needed to help the boss with his own professional image. Now that’s embarrassing! On the other hand I have seen many leaders who don’t have official titles but they still step up like a true leader and have an ability to influence others and earn respect.

TIP: I learned this lesson a long time ago. You are always in the spotlight when you are the leader. I didn’t believe it when I first got promoted to a top executive position at Macy’s. Then my boss pulled me aside and explained the concept, and I’m so glad he did because from that day on I made sure that I dressed more formally than everyone else on my team. As I walked the department store floor I also made sure to greet everyone by their first name, smile, and stop for a little small talk to connect with them on a more personal level. I always practiced the golden rule, which is to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If I had an issue with one of my executives I always talked with them in private about it and helped them problem solve the situation in a way that empowered them to handle themselves better as leaders in the future.

#4 Mistake – Leaders Don’t Care

We have all known leaders who think more highly of themselves than they do of those around them. Their egos are really a facade to cover up their lack of confidence, so they keep talking about themselves to put themselves on a pedestal. Trust me – no team of people will ever work really hard for that type of self-absorbed leader. In fact they are more apt to sabotage that leader in hopes that a more caring and considerate person will be sent to replace them.

TIP: People don’t care about you, they care about themselves. As the old saying goes, they don’t care how much you know – until they know how much you care. Look for the good in people, find out what they are doing right, and support and acknowledge that. Everyone has some great talents. I use the acronym T.E.A.M. with my executive clients as a daily reminder of how to show that they genuinely care about their people:

T = Teach them the skills and kinds of behavior you want them to demonstrate.
E = Empower them to utilize their personal brand personas to strengthen the team.
A = Appreciate their hard work and efforts even if the desired result is not accomplished.
M = Mentor them along in their careers and freely share your advice and experience.

I’ve done image consultation for Fortune 500 organizations and have worked as an executive coach for top leaders who have lots of different management styles. But the common thread among the successful leaders is that they learn from their mistakes and continue to evolve and become stronger leaders who can quickly inspire teams to high performance – regardless of the challenges they might face.


As a pioneering and visionary innovator, Sarah is a certified professional image consultant and brand strategist, speaker, trainer and author. Her company, Illustra Consulting, provides leading-edge image and brand management strategies for top leaders and high achievers who wish to take their career to the next level. She also delivers innovative and inspiring corporate workshops to assist large organizations in strengthening their corporate brand.

Illustra Consulting
Copyright © 2013, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS

1-800-267-3245, [email protected]
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Sarah Hathorn
Sarah Hathorn, CEO of Hathorn Consulting Group, is the go-to-expert in working with leaders and companies to create successful corporate DNA. As an executive coach, consultant and speaker she collaborates globally with clients and brands such as Kimberly-Clark, Sherwin-Williams, Home Depot and other leading organizations.
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Copyright © 2019, Sarah Hathorn, All rights reserved.
800-267-3245, [email protected]

This article may be reproduced only in its entirety, including the above bio.
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