Time to change how we think about soft skills, starting with the word “soft.”
In this unprecedented age of digital disruption, what is inescapable to leaders, is the growing, acute need for “soft” skills within their leaders and teams. The soft skills shortage is a real issue that companies such as Subaru are investing heavily in. The real problem, however, is that executives see soft skills, as soft when in fact, soft skills have an impact on hard numbers such as talent attraction and retention.
Perhaps if we didn’t historically think of soft skills as “soft,” organizations would have an abundance of leaders who could empathize, show compassion, be vulnerable, and show resilience – all coveted soft skills that contribute to building company cultures where employees feel like they belong and are free to be themselves. Soft implies that such skills are not as valuable as the hard skills, and the investment in soft skills is one of the first investments to be cut when organizations face a crisis. Ironically, a crisis requires the very soft skills they need to have leaders galvanize their organizations to renewed success.
In my 20-year career working with FORTUNE and Global 500 organizations, I have seen so-called soft skills meaningfully impact key measures such as alignment, retention, efficiency, revenue and profitability. The logic isn’t complicated. Employees are more compelled to not only follow, but do exceptional things for leaders who they feel great around. Leaders with exceptional soft skills can create teams that feel safe, free to voice their ideas, and quick to execute. Soft skills need investment and leaders can change but likely not overnight, therefore the continuous investment into developing superior soft skills is important to building a sustainable capability in an organization.
It’s time we stop calling soft skills soft. Leaders who develop strong soft skills are priceless in the impact they can make on a company’s culture and performance. It's time we switched out “soft” for “precious” or “priceless.”