Robert Logemann is an experienced corporate executive specializing in PE and public company turnaround. Chairman & CEO, PPG Inc.
Building a daily schedule can be a daily grind. In partnership with my executive assistant, I spend hours managing meetings, coordinating schedules and chasing time with those outside our system. What could fix that? One possible answer is a smart system that connects people across multiple platforms, automates these tasks and provides real-time information and time-saving results.
That day is coming if it isn’t already here. Gartner predicts that by 2024, artificial intelligence and automation will perform 69% of managers’ routine work. The Harvard Business Review says this transformation will lead companies to a choice: reduce management or update what managers do. That doesn’t have to be negative. By using automation wisely, leaders can reinvest their time into leading, foster better team communication and cooperation, drive innovation and affect positive organizational change.
This will require leaders to upgrade their “soft skills,” which are hard currency in the workforce. Need evidence? Browse the World Economic Forum’s list of the top 15 workforce skills of 2025, a sampling of which reads like a soft-skills curriculum:
• “Active learning and learning strategies.”
• “Critical thinking and analysis.”
• “Creativity, originality and initiative.”
• “Leadership and social influence.”
• “Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.”
• “Emotional intelligence.”
• “Persuasion and negotiation.”
Leaders should take advantage of the automation movement by learning new or tuning current soft skills to become more dynamic, empathetic and communicative. Here are three of my recommendations for getting started.
Nurture your empathy.
Some leaders consider empathy to be well-meaning but unnecessary. Those leaders should re-evaluate.
Empathy is a strategic imperative in business, according to the World Economic Forum. In studying empathy, Catalyst found that 61% of employees report being more innovative with “highly empathetic” senior leaders, and 76% report being more engaged. Catalyst further cited empathy as a powerful force in reducing burnout among women of color in the workforce, concluding that it “may represent the type of systemic support that previously has not been available to them.”
What is empathetic leadership? From my perspective, it involves respecting a team member’s voice, life circumstances and the need to balance work and home. It requires trying to feel what another person feels. It demonstrates leadership through compassion. It also demands making intentional connections to foster inclusion.
The World Health Organization now characterizes burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” in its International Classification of Diseases. I believe the post-pandemic workplace will beget more burnout unless we lead with empathy.
Leaders can cultivate empathy, but it takes time, effort and self-awareness. One of the easiest and most effective ways for leaders to cultivate empathy with their team is to schedule one-on-one meetings with team members where there is no agenda. I schedule weekly 25-minute meetings with my direct reports where I generally have no agenda and come prepared to listen to what the individual wants to talk about. Additionally, when someone is having a personal issue, offer to help. There might be little that can be done, but showing genuine interest, listening to someone’s personal problem and offering to help shows you care about the individual.
Improve your emotional intelligence.
A high quotient for emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a leadership requisite. Emotional intelligence represents your ability to understand and manage your emotions and apply that recognition to others. It’s an intangible skill that organizations have sought to measure and harness for decades. The value of emotional intelligence is undeniable. Research by TalentSmart (via the World Economic Forum) found that 90% of top performers ranked highly in emotional intelligence.
Experts say we can improve our emotional intelligence, which builds on four pillars: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social skills. So how can leaders evaluate themselves in these areas?
For me, one thing that has helped improve my emotional intelligence is to recognize when I am becoming impatient or angry with someone or a situation. There are physical cues I have learned to recognize, and when I feel that cue, I take a step back, remove myself from the moment and listen to what the other person is saying before responding thoughtfully.
Learning to read other people’s body language is also extremely important if you are going to have a high EQ. Recently, I noticed one of my team members seemed stressed, so I set up some one-on-one time and asked if they were comfortable sharing what was stressing them out and if there was anything I could do to help. We were able to talk things through, and they walked away feeling much better and had a plan.
Become a world-class listener.
Professionals are often encouraged to practice their listening skills, which seems obvious. However, consider this: Most of us have taken reading, writing and even public speaking classes, but how many of us have taken a course in listening?
Hearing and listening are distinct acts. Listening requires time and focus. Close your office door, silence your phone, sit with the person and let them speak. Then, repeat what the person tells you to demonstrate that you’re listening and have internalized their message. Practice active listening. Smart leaders often can determine what someone will say before they finish speaking. Better leaders allow them to finish. As I’ve seen many life coaches point out, “listen” and “silent” are anagrams.
Stephen Covey, the late author and educator, taught us the habits of good listeners in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The fifth habit is, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I learned from Covey that listening can be graded on five levels: ignoring, pretending, selective, attentive and empathetic. Strive to listen at Level 5.
Remember that when you use it properly, technology can enhance work rather than steal it. By automating functionary tasks from their daily schedules, leaders can focus on delivering the human edge for their organizations. They can manage careers instead of processes and empower employees to maintain healthy, holistic relationships with work and life. Even so, leaders with stronger soft skills will succeed by continuing to make people matter.
Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?