While hard skills prove your ability to successfully execute a given task, interpersonal skills are equally important if you want to survive corporate(and daily) life. The most rewarded entrepreneurs are masters in soft skills.
We tend to think that hard work, dedication and knowledge are the cornerstones of leadership. But a manager that wants to accomplish great results needs to be able to engage a team. And for that, one needs to have great empathy. Some gifted people (e.g. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, …) seem to get away with a lack of interpersonal skills, but in reality, they know very well how to surround themselves with the right people to cover for them.
Soft skills are applicable to all professions, much in contrast to hard skills. Hard skills are linked to a certain job, job type or sector. What makes soft skills different from hard skills is that they are much harder to learn and train.
A lot of soft skills are the result of your upbringing, relationship with others and personality traits. These include critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, leadership, and work ethic, … and they help you to adapt to different situations and circumstances. Soft skills allow you to approach different situations flexibly.
While hard skills are often linked to IQ (Intelligence Quotient), soft skills are much more related to the EQ (Emotional Quotient). According to NobelPrize-winner James Heckman “soft skills predict one's success in life” while having both a high IQ and EQ are the magical combination that predicts success both in personal and professional life.
The world is changing rapidly, and being able to adapt to these changes is priceless. That is why the interests of businesses and recruiters have grown for people with soft skills. Hard skills are fairly easy to acquire given the right work ethic, while this doesn’t really apply to soft skills.
The growing interest is reflected in the steep growth of tools that allow companies to assess these skills. Similarly, we see expensive (management) courses arise that try to fix the shortage of skilled people. The inherent difficulty ineffectively training soft skills, combined with the growing demand, has led to a shortage of soft-skilled employees on the job market.
However, leadership professor Robert Lavasseur found that researchers in his field today rated “soft skills higher than technical skills”. This was backed up by research from the Stanford Research Institute and the Carnegie MellonFoundation. They questioned the Fortune 500 CEOs and established that long-term job success was 75% more the result of soft skills than hard skills.
In some cultures, knowledge and hard skills are still valued more important than soft skills. We specifically see this in cultures where the collective is more important than the individual (e.g. India, China, …) but we already see a turnaround emerge.
The scholar system is often tailored for academic knowledge and less so for skill development (both hard and soft skills). And in the past employees were often recruited based on degrees and more recently, their track record and experience gained importance. This meant that companies also began to assess candidates based on hard skills. We often see governmental institutions and large corporations (dinosaurs) even struggle with looking beyond the degree. However globalisation, remote working, and flexible employment schemes, … require a skill-based approach.This puts massive stress upon companies that haven’t embraced skill-based hiring.
The flexibility of workers with good soft skills allows these workers to grow with the company and to face changes without fear. Leaders and managers that lack soft skills tend to micro-manage and their employees show much higher stresslevels, burn-out ratios and depression. Combined with the Corona crisis (which made a lot of employees rethink their job), these old school managers face a high level of churn in their teams.
Most soft skills come from experience, upbringing, and personal growth. This is also reflected in the most valued soft skills. A lot of them are less related to training but more to personality. This doesn’t mean that these personality traits cannot be strengthened and enhanced.
We also see that people aren’t always strong in all of these soft skills. Some gifted people might for example struggle with teamwork while being very strong in critical thinking. Other people might be great team players, but won’t be able to lead a team.
Thinking about today’s challenges (both in the job context and also in life), a lot of them require adaptability and quick thinking. The world around us is changing rapidly and we need resourceful people that can assess a situation quickly.Being able to cope with increasing levels of stress and complex environments is key. The growing importance of diversity and inclusion on the work floor requires us to showcase an open mindset.
Essential in almost every working environment is teamwork. Being able to communicate and collaborate with your colleagues is essential, even when leading them. The day and age where ‘do as you were told’ was an acceptable mantra is far past its due date.
Being able to look at a situation and judge its context and make well-informed decisions based on that situation, is probably the most underrated soft skill.But critical thinking is also a soft skill that can create controversy. It can lead to a negative or toxic atmosphere, undercutting leadership, and delays in project delivery, …
Strongly related to adaptability is problem-solving. Whereas critical thinking can lead to a negative spiral where everything becomes a problem, people with good problem-solving skills tend to look for solutions. Problem-solving can also be found in conflict management.
Creativity is often mistaken for arts and crafts. But creativity can also be found in how the way someone comes up with a solution, in the way someone writes an impactful email, … Creativity is creating impact with what you do.
Though leadership is a specific soft skill, most good leaders tend to generally be good at all soft skills. Good leaders don’t even need to have the knowledge or sometimes not even the hard skills. Natural leaders have persuasion power and charisma, and together with the ability to make decisions effectively they tend to be very successful.
There is a shortage of soft-skilled employees in the job market. Strengthening soft skills, giving people more confidence to grow their soft skills and coming up with courses and workshops to give soft skills a boost is the only way to bridge this skill gap.
The scholarly system should also undergo a drastic change toward skill-based learning. There are initiatives in the Nordics and some alternative school movements (e.g. Freinet Modern School Movement), but it’s all still very limited. These initiatives will have a positive impact on the job market and should be encouraged.