Why Soft Skills Are So Hard – And So Important To Your Success

We’ve all read the articles about the importance of soft skills – how the things that make us uniquely human will be what set us apart from our future AI overlords (insert Kent Brockman joke here..).

And its true – according to Danny Iny’s book Leveraged Learning, “research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Institute has concluded that 85% of job success comes from having well developed soft skills and people skills.”

In Joseph Aoun’s Robot-Proof, he references a 2016 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers stating that “the skill cited as most desirable in recent college graduates is the very human quality of “leadership.” More than 80% of respondents said they looked for evidence of leadership on candidate’s resumes, followed by “ability to work in a team” at nearly 79%. Written communication and problem solving – skills commonly attributed to a liberal arts education than a purely technical one – clocked in at 70%. Curiously, technical skills ranked in the middle of the survey, below strong work or initiative.”

So what does all this mean for a new or aspiring manager, in particular one who finds soft skills challenging? While it can be frustrating trying to understand the unquantifiable, here are three way to start building that increasingly important skill:

1. Task vs. People. If you always start interactions with a task focus, try the reverse. Engage with your team on a personal level when starting a 1:1 meeting. This doesn’t have to be a laborious or awkward interaction. Genuinely asking about how they are doing (family, weekends, hobbies, etc.) and spending a few minutes up front builds relationship capital. This won’t work for everyone of course, but it will certainly help you better connect with those on your team who value a people centred approach.

2. Do the right thing. In those moments when sh*t gets real, toss out the playbook and do what’s right. For example, if an employee doesn’t have vacation left and needs a day (and deserves it) – why not give it? If someone is sick and has to enter a personal day in the HR system, is that really necessary? All the systems and processes that run large companies often overshadow the most important thing – the people. Buy that coffee, write that personal note of thanks, offer that ride home. Sometimes it really is the little things that count.

3. Tell your people. If you let your team know you are trying to improve how you connect with others, two things will happen. One, they’ll know why you are trying something new and not wonder why you are acting differently. Two, they may offer up things for you to start/stop/continue doing in your desire to improve (and nothing is stopping you from asking, either).

Try one little thing this week and let me know how it goes!