Leadership Skills: Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills

Every organization is a complex, living organism – planning, reacting, adapting, evolving, growing, and shrinking in response to external demands and internal capabilities. The ability to execute depends on “soft skills” or human capabilities. Highly talented and motivated people are truly the ultimate competitive advantage and key to achieving your company’s objectives.

Hard Skills

Yet unfortunately, most people are promoted into management based on their hard skills. “Hard skills” are technical or administrative procedures related to an organization’s core business. Some examples include machine operation, software development, financial capabilities, and sales administration.

These skills are typically easy to observe, quantify, and measure. Promoting people for their hard skills is one of the primary causes of the Peter Principle.  The Peter Principle is a belief that when a promotion is based solely on achievement, success, and merit, that organization's members will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The principle is commonly referred to as, “employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.”

Soft Skills

emotional intelligence

Daniel Goleman is the author of the internationally best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence. Goleman discovered that while the qualities traditionally associated with leadership such as intelligence, assertiveness, determination, and vision are required for success, they alone are insufficient. Goleman said that truly effective leaders are also distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which is the area of cognitive ability involving traits and social skills that facilitate interpersonal behavior. Goleman said 10% of our success is a result of cognitive learned skills whereas 90% is a result of our emotional quotient (EQ).

These soft skills are critically important because they help reduce turnover, improve outcomes, and directly impact bottom line profitability.  Some soft skills include:

1. Self-Awareness – understanding individual preferences to heighten flexibility in all situations

2. Self–Regulation - the self’s capacity to alter its behaviors

3. Motivation – the ability tocause people to act, guide, and maintain goal-oriented behaviors

4. Empathy – Hearing the message from every person and keeping an open mind

5. Communication Skills – developing flexibility to others’ styles

6. Conflict Management – learning to use conflict as a brainstorming and creativity tool

7. Relationship Building – strengthening every person’s diverse connections

8. Team Building – building teams that function even through chaos

Can Soft Skills Be Taught?

There’s no doubt that these types of skills come more naturally to some than others, but having taught these skills to executives for the last ten years, I believe that they can be honed over time if the person has the ability and desire to learn.

How have improving your soft skills helped you to become a better leader?

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