Soft Skills

“In today’s competitive environment, it is not enough to be the best in your field, intellectually.  Competency is only half of what you need to climb the ladder of success. The other half is the softer side of you – it’s that part of you that will be liked, admired, trusted and remembered.” – Carole Nicola Ides

Soft skills are essential irrespective of the level of management – low, middle and top level management. People rise in organizations due to hard skills but fall due to lack of soft skills. Senior executives need more of soft skills rather than hard skills. CEOs require more of soft skills rather than any other skills.

Do those statements sound strange to you?

According to the psychologist Daniel Goleman, soft skills are a combination of competencies that contribute to a person’s ability to manage himself and relate to other people. These are the skills, abilities, and traits about the personality, attitude, and behavior of a person.  They are the human skills that make a huge difference for your professional success.  They are needed for good leaders to become great leaders.  In contrast, hard skills are about your technical competence and domain expertise.  Sometimes soft skills are equated with teamwork while hard skills with execution. Hence, executives must proportionately blend the soft and hard skills with leadership to excel as successful leaders. However, as they gain more experience they need more of soft skills because they work less on their hard skills and more on interpersonal skills. They are mostly into visioning, troubleshooting, and managing several stakeholders which demands soft skills and leadership skills.

Soft Skills for CEOs

CEOs must demonstrate both soft and hard skills with more emphasis on soft skills as they have to handle people.  Dr. John Fleenor of the Center for Creative Leadership explains that the CEO’s “soft” skills make all the difference.  They must be good listeners, consensus builders, team players and empathizers.  Hence, to grow the corporate ladder quickly, it is essential for executives to possess more of soft skills and less of hard skills.  We can compare soft skills with emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) and hard skills with intelligence quotient (IQ).  Succinctly, soft skills are twice as important as IQ or technical skills for the success of senior executives.  Studies have shown that individuals with high emotional quotient are highly appreciated in the workplace and they tend to grow rapidly in the corporate ladder. Denis Waitley rightly quoted, “The winner’s edge is not in a gifted birth, a high IQ, or in talent. The winner’s edge is all in the attitude, not aptitude. Attitude is the criterion for success.”

Ram Charan outlines the importance of both business acumen and people acumen for leaders in his book, Leaders At All Levels. He says, “Anyone can improve his or her ability to select and develop people’s talents, but other aspects of people acumen are hard to teach.  Leaders with people acumen have good instincts to anticipate problems among individuals who must work together, and to get them resolved.  When leaders are unable to make good decisions or any decisions at all, it may be that their business acumen is not expanding.  They cannot be considered to have CEO potential.”  Here business acumen is equated with hard skills and people acumen with soft skills. We can also say that hard skills include IQ and soft skills include EQ.

EQ and Soft Skills

There are a number of definitions on emotional intelligence.  For instance, David Caruso defined emotional intelligence as follows: “It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head – it is the unique intersection of both.”  But I would like to define EQ as follows:  “Emotional intelligence quotient is a five-step process of discovering your emotions; managing your emotions; motivating your emotions; discovering the emotions of the people around you, and managing their emotions to achieve organizational goals and objectives.” Here people find it quite comfortable to discover, manage, and motivate, their emotions but they find it tough to discover the emotions of others and channel their emotions effectively.  Hence, acquiring EQ is easier said than done.  Although most of the people are aware of the definition of EQ they fail to apply and excel as leaders because managing the emotions of others is a highly challenging task and it consumes a lot of mental energies to set the things straight from time to time.

Soft Skills at all Levels                     

Entry level executives need both soft and hard skills to start with.  As they attain experience they must acquire more of soft and conceptual skills as hard skills matter less.  There are leaders who excelled as great leaders despite not being good at hard skills in a specific area as they are good at soft skills and converted soft skills into hard skills.

Employees must know how to gel well with others to minimize workplace conflicts and create a conducive climate to enhance organizational excellence and effectiveness. If employees don’t possess soft skills a lot of time will be spent in firefighting thus deviating from the destined goals. Hence, soft skills are imperative for employees and more so for the senior executives to handle employees effectively. Especially in the prevailing tough times soft skills help retain the customers as the customers demand more from companies currently. Handling them with soft skills makes a huge difference in winning, and retaining them for a longer time.

While leading the employees, the leaders must learn that they are managing the emotions of their employees.  And to manage the emotions of the employees, there is a need for soft skills rather than hard skills.  Hard skills are essential to manage machine while soft skills are essential to lead men. Hence, in order to lead men, and to mange machine, material, and money it is essential to blend soft and hard skills proportionately to achieve the expected outcomes.

Soft Skills Fast-track Your Career Success

If you want to reach senior positions quickly in the corporate world you must emphasize more on EQ.  And Mayer & Salovey rightly quoted, “People high in emotional intelligence are expected to progress more quickly through the abilities designated and to master more of them.”  In addition, research shows that to reach the CEO position quickly executives must possess more of soft skills and emotional quotient. However strong in IQ and great experience they have, the executives must possess more EQ and great attitude to survive and inspire others to perform well. There are senior executives who failed miserably despite being good at experience and IQ as they developed rotten attitude and became too big for their shoes due to high ego that arose from their strong hard skills. Hence, soft skills are essential for leaders to survive, succeed and to inspire others to enhance organizational excellence and effectiveness.

Professor M.S.Rao is an international leadership guru with 33 years of experience in leadership, and the author of 26 books including the award-winning ‘21 Success Sutras for Leaders’  URL which has been selected as the Top 10 Leadership Books of the Year – 2013 by San Diego University and is the recipient of an International Award – ‘International Coach of the Year 2013’. He can be reached at: msrlctrg@gmail.com His Facebook Page  and Amazon.

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