4 Soft Skills To Help You Become A Leader

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This post is in partnership with Forté Foundation. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and experiences are always my own.


I identify as a “multi-passionate” millennial. In elementary school I would spend hours writing my own short stories. At the same time, I was also running my own Precious Moments Greeting Card business. True story, by the ripe old age of 10, I had already had four businesses and multiple employees. I always felt torn between my creative side and my practical side.

In high school, I thought I might become a pharmacist, and primarily took science and math courses as my electives. Then I decided to get my degree in business. But I screwed upI didn’t understand the requirements of the college of business at my university and got kicked out after the second semester. I’ve always been a perfectionist and an overachiever, and I lost a ton of confidence. Plus, I felt like if I couldn’t understand microeconomics, I clearly would never be able to run a business.

I majored in Psychology, spent several years working in counseling, and began to pursue a master’s degree. About a year in, I realized I wasn’t on the right career path. On some level, I knew I wanted to get back to my entrepreneurial roots, but had no idea where to start. I tried so hard to find a mentor during those years. I turned to professors, bosses, classmates, and even reached out to a few local female CEO’s and straight up asked them to be my mentor. But I never found one.

What I wish I knew back then: that even though I didn’t have a firm grasp on microeconomics, I did have a lot of skills that would help me succeed as a businesswoman and entrepreneur.   

The other weekend I had the opportunity to attend #HerConference. A conference for high school and college women to get the insights, information, and inspiration they need to conquer their careers. Seriously, where was this conference 10 years ago? Even though I’ve been out of school for a while now, there was still so much to learn!

I had the opportunity to explore Forté Foundation’s booth at the conference. Forté’s driving mission is to help women advance in leadership roles. They have a ton of resources for women in college, all the way through business school and the MBA process.

[RELATED] Forté Foundation’s Resources For College Students

I wish I’d known about Forté when I was in school. They truly understand the struggle. You see, my experience of getting kicked out of the college of business and not understanding microeconomics is actually pretty common: one of the biggest reasons women don’t pursue an MBA or leadership role in business is due to their lack of confidence when it comes to analytics and numbers.

Each of Forté’s conference stations helped attendees cultivate an insanely valuable soft skill. Most striking to me was how the stations tied so well into the keynote speakers’ personal career stories I heard. So I wanted to showcase some of the soft skills touched on at the Forté’s booth, show how they played out in the keynote’s lives, and hopefully help you realize that you have more leadership skills within you than you realize!

Soft Skills (noun): personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.Click To Tweet

4 Soft Skills To Help You Become A Leader

1. Have Fun!

Station 1 at Forté’s booth was super fun and empowering where you “found your wings!” I thought this dovetailed perfectly with the keynote speeches by Lisa Sugar, President and founder of POPSUGAR, and Troian Bellisario (Spencer Hastings from Pretty Little Liars).

In college, Troian got to feed her creativity and grow as an artist around like minded people who challenged and inspired her. She knew she would become an actress. However, she spoke fondly about how much she needed the time in school to fail, get a little bit better, and fail again. She learned how to have fun with her craft“found her wings.” Lisa took her love of celebrity and pop culture, something she was already having fun with, and turned it into POPSUGAR.

So is knowing how to have fun really a soft skill? I think soin one of my past jobs I actually had my boss and several co-workers tell me that there was no room for fun in the workplace… and a year later none of us were still working there or together ? .

mind blown

If we want to interact with others and move forward in our careers, we need to have a little fun, feel empowered, and find our wings! That’s the passion that attracts the right opportunities and people our way!

2. Play To Your Strengths

Station 2 at Forté was all about playing to your strengths. With help from Pymetrics, attendees played different games to discover their unique cognitive and emotional traits. That knowledge can help you discover and explore career paths that are best suited to you! This is insanely valuable, you guys!

So often in college or school we focus on what we think we are supposed to focus on rather than our strengths. But one thing successful people do is play to their strengths and outsource the rest. That’s a major key in stepping into a leadership role.

Lisa Sugar talked about this in her keynote as well. Part of the startup life is knowing what your team’s strengths are. If you can easily identify your own strengths and vocalize them to an employer, when the company begins to grow and restructure, you’re gold! Lisa said she actually asked her employees, “what do you want to do?” during one of their growth spurts. Always be ready to answer that question.

3. Leave A Good Impression

Station 3 at Forté’s booth was about making a strong first impression. No matter what your degree, job title, or industry, the impression you leave people with is everything: it all becomes part of your personal brand.

Both keynote speakers talked about the importance of making strong impressions. One of the major mantras that Lisa Sugar built POPSUGAR around is playing niceleaving that strong first impression and treating others well while working hard to build up her empire. That led to new connections for growth.

Troian made a strong impression in her career by taking a role as an understudy, even though she wanted to be a lead in a play. The next play, she was called and cast. Clearly she left enough of an impression to get her foot in the door and used that time to build upon that impression rather than sulk that she was only the understudy. From there, she took the audition for Pretty Little Liars even though she didn’t think she would be a good fit. She continued to get call backs…and we all know how that ended ?.

You can be the best person in the world, but if you leave a bad impression on others, what will they remember?

4. Courage

Life is messy. Our careers are messy. We are complex people who will have a ton of failures and even more mistakes. Part of being a leader is having the courage to take the hard road, bounce back from adversity, and walk through the fear of it all.

Station 4 at the Forté booth was about increasing your odds of success. With help from GMAT representatives, you spun a wheel to answer true or false questions about women in the workforce. A lot of these were super surprising to me and the stats served as a major call to action about the potential of women in leadership roles, and how much further we have to go. Where does that fear get us? Nowhere.

Know that more than ever, we as women have an opportunity to overcome the odds and get to where we want in life.Click To Tweet

When Troian got the role for Pretty Little Liars, she actually started crying. She’d never watched teen shows like it before, and had always thought her career would be in NYC in theater. Now she had to change direction—and she wasn’t sure she wanted to.

I can totally relate to that. So often I thought I was finally headed toward the career path I was meant to be on, only to then get pulled in an entirely different direction. It’s terrifying to think you have it all figured out then have the script flipped on you.

'Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.' - John LennonClick To Tweet

But the key to navigating those big changes is to walk through fear. Whether it’s taking the GMAT, stepping outside of your degree, or taking on a new project that you never saw coming at you, don’t let a crisis of confidence get the best you. Don’t give up. Don’t settle. Overcome the odds: you may just discover who you’re meant to be.

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  • kathy

    Thanks for the tips. It sure does take courage you have to keep pushing and pushing even though you may not see results right away.

  • The her conference sounds like an amazing experience! I’m sad that I didn’t get to go because meeting Lisa Sugar would be a dream for me! I’ve always dreamed about working for pop sugar…….I love their brand! 🙂

  • Loved this post! Having fun and courage are two biggies in all aspects of life! As a workforce development professional, I can’t tell you the amount of times I try to tell people that a lot of people out there have the required education and skills to do a job, but it’s the soft skills that sets you apart! How cool that you got to meet Lisa and Troian too!

    • Couldn’t agree more!! I didn’t get to meet meet them – but with Troian I was literally like right in front of her and was so excited! Lisa I was allll the way in the back of the room, but it was so cool hearing both of them speak!

  • Mikaela Fleisher

    I love these tips. It’s easy to get caught up in what we think we’re supposed to be doing, but it is important to play to our own strengths. That is what sets us apart from everyone else!

  • I loved this! I am starting to put aside money to start going to events like this and I think everyone should. Thank you for sharing what you learned.

  • hal

    i love this post – i find that i actually surprisingly do most of these things – i admittedly don’t always have the courage though to put myself out there as much as I should!

  • Neely

    These are all great. I agree with play to your strengths so much. We all have different ones!

  • This is so inspiring Rachel! I think that soft skills get people jobs more often than hard skills. I’m slowly learning to play to my strengths!

    • YES!! I couldn’t agree more! And so often, we overlook the soft skills that are within us and the role they are playing in our career development!

  • Kathleen Brown

    This is a fantastic list. What I loved about your post is that it gave me things to think about. For instance leaving a good impression. It’s something I always hope to do but never really thought about. Love your ideas

  • I love this post! We do need to have fun more and stop taking ourselves so serious.

  • Love this! Knowing your strengths is so important! I took a class in college that focused on emotional intelligence and figuring out your strengths and weaknesses and it was so helpful for me!

    Carrie

    • That sounds like am awesome class! Honestly, I don’t think people realize how important EQ is in the workforce, especially in leadership roles!

  • Tasia Bruderer

    This post could not have been more on point! I love that you started with having fun. Sometimes we can lose sight of why we began a journey in the first place. Enjoy yourself is always important.

    • Ahh thank you!! Completely! Personally, I was fired twice because I was so miserable to be around in the workplace (I was actually killin it at my job and with all the hard skills), but when I lost sight of how to have fun, and be around others and maintain my passion (re: burnt out) is when I couldn’t stay in that industry or progress anymore!

  • Heather Rene

    Wish they had a #HerConference for adults! Sounds like an awesome experience. Thanks for sharing some insights for those of us not in school anymore!

    And I totally relate to you – I was always doing several different projects during any season of my life & then changed majors in school 8 times! I now don’t use my degree per se, but use things I learned while getting it.

  • That conference sounds amazing! Definitely something I would’ve liked when I was younger too! Soft skills are just as important (if not more) than hard!

  • Awesome post! These are all so true especially as I work toward a career in engineering at a large company and pursue creative projects outside of that.

  • This was such an inspiring read! Perfect for a Monday, great way to get the week started. I want to attend a Her Conference so bad. Soft skills aren’t talked about all too often, but they really do give us a push in the right direction.

  • Sounds like a great conference. I love what you said about life being messy and making mistakes and failures. I feel in a bit of a rut right now and have been very hard on myself because of some mistakes. Sometimes finding the courage to get past that can be the hardest thing.

  • hollyhockdoor

    This is really interesting. From being a teacher and university lecturer I’ve seen how gendered our teaching tools can be. It sounds like this conference has picked up on that and is seeking redress

  • Elizabeth Johnson

    Such a great post!! So encouraging and amazing advice. Leaving a good impression is so key. So spot on! Thank you for sharing your experience it sounds like it was an incredible conference!

  • Playing to your strength is so key! Sounds like a great conference!

  • Definitely love the point about turning something you love into a full-fledged career! If only it were as easy as it sounds 😉

    Tori

  • I do agree that being nice can really go a long, long, long way in life. Not only in your career, but also in your personal relationships and interactions with strangers. I can imagine how much brighter the world would be if people led their life that way…

  • Yes, this whole post was gold. I so wish I could’ve made it to the conference this year. Troian is so awesome and inspiring.

  • I really loved this! Courage and being kind. Those two thing will get you far in life! I also loved what you quoted from Troian – how she had to fail, learn and fail again. That’s how we learn and get stronger.

  • this is a really interesting article. I love the advice to have fun. Having courage is also so important. Thank you for sharing from this great conference!

  • Shamira West

    Good tips. I really loved this. Being kind and being yourself are so important.

  • Amanda Faber

    This is perfect and being nice to people always gets you ahead in life

  • Super Millennial

    Great post! “Leave a good impression” and “being nice” definitely are the two that resonated with me the most!

  • Yessss having fun is so essential! In my field I have learned that if I can’t find a way to enjoy myself, I’m going to burn out super quick.

    • haha i knew you would relate to that one! The experience I reference was actually from my therapy days! We were choosing a guiding word for our clinical team and were sharing our list of suggestions (We each had like 20 from a free form exercise) and I didn’t think that should be THE word, but it was on my list as an important part of work-life, and I was so surprised by the negative response I got! Like as therapists, we need to have fun!

  • Life keeps driving me to another direction and it is scary! The good part about is that I’m learning many things on the way.

  • I couldn’t agree with you more on these things you’ve listed here! You should definitely be able to have fun in the work place. I agree that having courage is also HUGE when it come to your career life as well. Happy to hear you were able to take away all those insights from the Her Conference as well. Loved reading this,Rachel!

  • OMG! This looked like a really good event to attend. Your post is very informative and inspiring. I am definitely pinning this post for a rainy day.

  • Such an important read! Not selling yourself short and knowing your strengths is so important!

  • Kim Gammage

    This is exactly what I needed to read right now with everything going on. A little reminder on how to be better.

  • These are great skills to work on and they would make you a wonderful leader. It’s definitely something to work toward. 🙂

  • Tal

    Great article and great read! You touched on so many points that I needed to hear 🙂 Thank you for spelling it all out!

  • Sarah Jean

    I love the point about having fun! I work in Congress so while most days are very stressful and serious, our office brings in nerf guns and has an occasional “war” to release the tension 🙂

  • This is a great post! I love how you shared these points (and I totally agree on all of it!) and also included your own story into it!

  • This was so great. I totally agree about having fun and having courage.

  • Thank you for sharing these skills! I love the idea of having ‘fun’ and running my own business one day, but lacking courage can get the best of me.

  • mckenna bleu

    I love this post so much!! Everything you said is exactly what I (and a lot others) needed to hear!

  • Troian seems like SUCH an interesting person. I sort of social media stalked her because I loved her so much in Pretty Little Liars and was happy to see she appears well grounded and really smart in real life! I know she wasn’t the main point here but I find her so interesting haha

    • GIRL! I think you wouldve been even more obsessed with her if you saw her! Her Campus posted her talk on their FB page. It’s really worth the watch! she is so grounded (seemingly) and her story feels so relatable!

  • Your point about changing directing just resonates with me so much! It’s terrifying to be moving away from what you intended to do, but it all seems to work out!

  • I always love your use of GIFs! So refreshing. I wish I had learned more of my strengths while I was in school! I think it would have helped me narrow down my education and career choices.

  • Yes yes yes! Agree with all of these. I think sometimes we are too focused on becoming a leader that we forget to work on these soft skills.

  • I totally agree with playing your strengths and leaving a good impression!

    xoxo

  • I love your sentiments about leaving a good impression. I think that is one of my strongest assets. Even if you may not be 100% qualified, if people gravitate towards you, then they are willing to work with you.

  • I thought this would be quite a technical read, but it turned out to be so much fun and knowledgeable as well. I really admire Troian! Apart from her acting & directing career, she has been into so much that she become an inspiration. This was a wonderful read! 🙂

    • Thank you!! Yeah, I try to talk harder topics and make them more relatable and less technical!! Happy it converted well!!! and yess!! I am SO inspired by her! Have you watched Feed yet?

  • This is such an interesting post! That boss who told you that there’s no room for fun in the workplace must have been out of his mind.

    Lauren

    • haha thats exactly what myself and my only fellow millennial co-worker thought!! It’s such a negative view! no wonder the entire team was burnt out

  • I couldn’t agree more with all of these points, especially having fun! Even though it’s “work”, you still deserve to have fun at work every once in awhile and having courage is so important too!

  • R, this is SO GOOD. I’m also a multi-passionate millennial, and like you, actually had a phase of wanting to be a pharmacist…also a marine biologist, teacher, psychology, dolphin trainer, and American Idol contestant. HAHA. Besides all of your points being spot on (SO many great leaders I can think of top of head are actually FUN on the job notoriously), I lovelovelove the Her Conference mentions cos WHAT A GOOD TIME THO. Lovelovelove you. <3

  • This conference sounds amazing. Troian is such an inspiration!

  • Ashley Peggs

    This is a good list of traits that make for a good leader. I completely agree that you need to have fun and make connections along the way. Relationships and trust are build through this fun moments together.

  • Allison Ellzey

    I love this! I’m sorry you had such a terrible experience at first in the business world with getting kicked out the COB. But, I’m glad you didn’t let it hold you back–you go girl!

  • Sydney Power

    I so wish I could have gone to this conference – sounds absolutely fantastic. Love the soft skill of playing to your strengths – this sounds so simple yet so many of us are not.

  • thesophiadiaries

    I’m so glad you brought in troian haha she’s such an inspiring human being! And these are totally true things for sure!

  • Muna Kenny

    I do have fun but not in everything I do, I can never enjoy the tech part of my work. I like how you listed everything that should be a common sense but maybe we are so busy to notice!

  • Oyinkan Ogunleye

    I also think being a good listener and communicator makes you a good leader. It helps build a better team.

  • Taylor Smith

    This was awesome! I loved how much I learned from reading this post. 🙂

  • Jazzmine Woodard

    Great things to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing, Rachel.

  • That is so crazy inspiring that you were so successful and even had employees at such a young age! I love what you said about #4! Courage is SO important to have in all of life endeavors !

  • Audrey Stowe

    Couldn’t agree more with leave a good impression! I always tell myself this and others. I think it’s so important. Love this whole post!

  • Elly Leavitt

    your posts are always so detailed and helpful! and i stalk troian on instagram on the reg haha so I loved reading this. x

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