“The Soft Skills Are The Hard Skills”

“The soft skills are the hard skills.” That’s a quote from Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School. (It appeared in “Has Executive Education Gone Soft?” by Frank Kalman, for Chief Learning Officer.)

ID-10075094It’s a quote that resonated with me because it’s true. It’s not hard to find leaders who know how to accomplish things, push people, achieve bottom line results. That’s how they became leaders in the first place: They achieved results. And that’s a good thing. Results are important, are in fact necessary to thrive or even survive in the current business climate.

But today, it’s the soft skills that set apart the true leader. According to the 2012 Leadership Insights Survey by the Center for Creative Leadership, business leaders say the most important competencies among young workers are:

  • Self-motivation/discipline: 44%
  • Effective communication: 40%
  • Learning agility: 29%
  • Self-awareness: 26%
  • Adaptability/versatility: 22%

As little as 20 years ago, the most important competency was technical mastery (53%), which today doesn’t even crack the top 5. That’s likely a recognition that technical skills can be learned or technical needs change so fast that they have become a secondary concern.

The article mentioned above describes how soft skills—self-awareness, emotional intelligence, wisdom, influence and authenticity—are part of the typical business school curriculum. Can those things be learned? Obviously, some people are better at these skills than others. But like any skill, you can develop strategies or learn techniques to improve your abilities. As a learning professional, do you wonder if it’s true that soft skills are harder to define and measure?

What do you think? Are the soft skills the harder ones to learn, define and measure? Can you improve your mastery in this area? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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