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To stay at top, think 'soft,' build a network
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Karen Wright, author of "The Complete Executive: The 10-Step System for Great Leadership Performance," says leaders need not only incredible physical energy but also a support system, philosophy, business acumen, social network and a reputation to ensure they thrive at the top.

What goes into building a valuable network?

A network's value is based on how it supports the owner's goals and interests, as well as on the degree to which its owner is able to draw on its resources. A network that has been built strategically and invested in will have members who can be useful as resources who will be willing to help you when you ask. Key to building your network as a business asset is making connections based on quality rather than quantity. It's also important to maintain your network — deciding what kind of connections you'd like to have and determining how to best go about making those connections. Helpful, too, is to have a plan that guides you on how often and in what way to connect with network members. Some you'll want to reach out to regularly, while others might warrant an annual contact.

Explain the importance of executives mastering soft skills.

These days, just getting the job done is not enough to be considered a success. The way you get it done is often as important. I've always found it ironic that the "how" of getting things done — those competencies characterized as "soft" skills — are usually tougher to master than the more directive, authoritarian approach to leadership. Without the ability to lead and inspire people, to build relationships and establish trust, you might be able to push people once, but their results will not be sustainable. Leadership is a situational thing. Sometimes it's necessary to be very directive, but more often it's better to take the time to coach so your people develop a new skill that they can sustain over time. Coaching requires those "soft" skills — the ability to build relationships, establish trust, willingness to listen.

Why is it important to be a lifelong learner?

It's easy to settle into patterns, particularly when your life is demanding. But doing so can mean you're not stimulating your brain and exposing yourself to new ideas. Business today is incredibly complex and changes at light speed. Leaders have to be prepared. The constant pursuit of learning, of new ideas, of brain stimulation, means that you're staying sharp, that you're equipping yourself with a constantly expanding set of tools with which to solve increasingly complex problems, and ensures you'll be able to keep pace with the ever-accelerating rate of change around you and your business.

What are other skills that executives must master?

To be successful for the long term, a leader must adapt to change while holding a clear and constant vision for the future. Because any achievement is accomplished with and through people, a leader must constantly work on the ability to evaluate, develop and retain talent. Embedded in those skill sets is the ability and willingness to listen — intently, actively and with an open mind.

Dawn House Karen Wright, author

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