Home Online Business Blog Developing Soft Skills Through an Online MBA: Communication, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Developing Soft Skills Through an Online MBA: Communication, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

19 Feb
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Although most formal education focuses on developing hard skills—the quantifiable abilities people need to complete their professional tasks, such as programming, data analysis or accounting—it’s often the soft skills that make for effective leaders. Soft skills are the so-called 'people skills' that are valuable in any position: they encompass how you relate to other people, solve problems, address talent management and so on. For some people, such skills are innate, but they can and should be taught as part of leadership development in an MBA program.1

This post will explore several important soft skills and benefits of developing them while earning your MBA online.

Master Effective Communication

Leaders have to communicate with the people around them in various ways. They have to motivate their teams, convey a vision, encourage collaboration and help people stay focused on strategic business goals. Communication skills are among the most important soft skills you'll need as you strive for career advancement. Those you'll learn as an MBA student include active listening, speaking and writing.2

Active Listening

Foundational to effective communication, active listening helps you build trust with the people around you, gain critical information and get to the root of problems. When you listen actively, you completely focus on the person who’s talking to you.3

Giving someone your undivided attention can be hard when you’re busy, but it will save you time in the long run and make you a better leader. You can build the habit of active listening by making eye contact with the person speaking to you, paraphrasing what is said to you, asking open-ended questions and giving verbal affirmations while you’re listening. People feel validated when they know that you're paying attention to them, and they’re more likely to be receptive to what you have to say when they feel they’ve been heard and understood.3


As a leader, you’ll frequently be called on to speak, both in one-on-one situations and in front of groups. Whether you’re presenting ideas to one person or a thousand, you’ll be more persuasive if you consider the needs and perspectives of your audience: What’s important to them? What problems are they looking to you to solve? For prepared speeches, be sure that your message is clear and concise and ends with a strong call to action.4


From answering stakeholder emails to preparing reports, writing is an essential communication skill for business leaders. You don’t need to be a novelist, but you do need to get your point across clearly to your audience—without typos, spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.

Follow these tips to improve your writing skills:5

  • Think about the audience for whom you’re writing
  • Set a clear goal for what you want to communicate
  • Use simple language instead of jargon
  • Use the active voice
  • Write in short sentences
  • Proofread carefully, thoroughly and repeatedly

Nurture Strong Leadership Abilities

Consciously developing the management skills you need in your MBA program will help you stand out when you’re applying for positions and after you start working. One of the easiest ways to demonstrate your leadership ability is to step up and take the initiative. Learning more and taking on extra responsibilities at work will keep you top of mind when leadership positions become available.6

Critical thinking is another essential soft skill. Business leaders need to think ahead and consider all of the possible ramifications of a proposed action, both positive and negative. They need to foresee new opportunities for growth and guard against unanticipated problems.

Other soft skills you can learn in an online MBA leadership program include task delegation, time management, conflict resolution and management of team dynamics.6

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage emotions in yourself and others. Not only is it an essential component in your professional development, it's the strongest predictor of job success among all workplace skills: More than 90% of top performers score above average in emotional intelligence.7

There are four elements of emotional intelligence:7

  1. Personal awareness involves understanding how you respond to emotional situations. If you get angry, you may have a tendency to be sarcastic and cutting.
  2. Personal management involves finding productive ways to deal with your emotions. For example, if you feel yourself getting angry, you might practice deep-breathing exercises to avoid a knee-jerk sarcastic response.
  3. Social awareness involves understanding others’ emotional responses, both constructive and destructive. You may notice that someone on your team gets flustered and makes mistakes when they’re stressed.
  4. Relationship management involves using your insights about others to create positive relationships. When you notice your teammate is getting stressed, you might encourage that person to take a break and come back with a fresh perspective.

Online Learning and Development of Soft Skills

If you’re considering earning an MBA for leadership skills, look for a program that takes a deliberate and structured approach to teaching them. The digital revolution has changed the face of business. The rise of remote work and online platforms has led to a corresponding increase in interactions—internally among work teams and externally with customers—that take place online.8

An online MBA program provides an excellent opportunity for you to hone your soft skills in a digital environment. You’ll develop discipline and time management skills as you work your way through your program at your own pace.9

While you’ll benefit from learning asynchronously, however, you need a program that provides plenty of opportunities for collaboration, networking and teamwork. A strong program will give you hands-on challenges and set up in-person learning experiences through which you can develop the real-world soft skills you need to grow as a global leader.9

Develop the Soft Skills to Become an Outstanding Leader

Led by world-class faculty, William & Mary’s top-ranked Online MBA program offers a rigorous curriculum that will prepare you with the hard and soft skills you need to resolve complex challenges in the business world. These wicked problems don’t have easy solutions, but you’ll learn to approach them through design thinking—a problem-solving mindset you can use to continuously refine and develop effective solutions.

The business skills and interpersonal expertise you gain will position you for executive leadership in your future career. To get started, schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor today.