“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Soft leadership is a new relationship-oriented leadership style that effectively blends soft skills with leadership. This style emphasizes transformation of people more than transaction of tasks. It focuses on bringing out behavioral changes and making a difference in people’s lives. Soft leadership falls under the behavioral theory of leadership and is related to democratic, charismatic, transformational, authentic, principle-centered, spiritual and servant leadership styles.

Soft leadership constitutes 11 Cs: character, charisma, conscience, conviction, courage, communication, compassion, commitment, consistency, consideration and contribution. Leaders who are associated with each of the Cs include Mahatma Gandhi (character), Mikhail Gorbachev (charisma), Martin Luther King, Jr. (conscience), Aung San Sui Kyi (convictions), Alexander the Great (courage), Winston Churchill (communication), Mother Teresa (compassion), Nelson Mandela (commitment), John Wesley (consistency), Dalai Lama (consideration) and Booker T. Washington (contribution).

Soft Leadership Versus Hard Leadership

  • Soft leadership emphasizes character, charisma, compassion, communication, courage, empathy, persuasion and setting a personal example. In contrast, hard leadership focuses on fear, threats and negative motivation.
  • Soft leadership is people-oriented, while hard leadership is task-oriented.
  • Soft leadership involves the use of an integrative and participatory style, while hard leadership involves the “carrot-and-stick policy.”
  • Soft leadership blends soft and hard skills with an emphasis on soft skills. No leader is effective without hard skills. However, soft leadership emphasizes the behavioral attitudes of followers.
  • Soft leaders adopt a transformational, democratic and authentic leadership style, while hard leaders adopt a transactional and autocratic style. Precisely, hard leadership focuses on how much you know, while soft leadership focuses on how much you care.

Given the choice between soft and hard leadership, it is soft leadership that matters in the end. Soft leadership will pass the test of time, while hard leadership is fading away.

Soft leadership is the solution to several challenges. Through soft leadership, Mahatma Gandhi, who was a physically frail man, brought down the mighty British Empire; Martin Luther King, Jr. championed equality in America; Mother Teresa (known as mother of compassion) served the poor and the sick; and Nelson Mandela ended apartheid in South Africa.

Soft Leadership Training: Advantages

Globally, organizations are investing a huge amount of time, money and energy on leadership development training programs to enhance knowledge, skills and abilities and build their leadership pipeline. The millennials who dominate the global workforce appreciate working in flat and lean organizations and prefer partnership to leadership. They are less comfortable with the traditional command-and-control organizational hierarchy. Emphasizing soft leadership training will help organizations engage employees effectively and retain talent successfully.

Workplace conflicts arise due to emotions, egos, feelings and incompatibility. Providing soft leadership training helps people understand and relate to others effectively. It eliminates ego and builds empathy and leadership compatibility.

It is well understood that employees rise in the corporate ladder due to hard skills but fall due to a lack of soft skills. We need to provide them with soft leadership training to enable them to understand and empathize with others in the workplace.

Soft Leadership Training: Content

Soft leadership training should use action learning and focus on transferable, interpersonal skills. In this technological world, employees can be more connected virtually than physically. Soft leadership training encourages physical interaction, resulting in increased leadership effectiveness.

Soft leadership training should include the following skills, depending on the size of the industry and profile of the audience: listening, assertion, communication, presentation, negotiation, conflict resolution, team-building, networking, decision-making, critical thinking, time management, collaboration, social grace and adaptability.

When delivering soft leadership training, it is essential to use behavioral training techniques. Case study discussion alone doesn’t help, since soft leadership skills are behavioral skills. To bring about behavioral improvement in employees, use role-plays, business games, debates, group discussions and outward-bound training followed by constructive feedback. These behavioral training activities convert knowledge into skills and abilities and help employees identify their blind spots and overcome them effectively.


Soft leadership training provides a competitive edge. It is always an asset to employees and should be provided to employees at all levels to achieve organizational goals and objectives, particularly in view of the rapid changes in technology and the rising expectations of stakeholders.

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. is the father of “soft leadership” and founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is the author of 36 books, including the award-winning “21 Success Sutras for CEOs. Email him at msrlctrg@gmail.com.