I’ve always struggled with the term soft skills.
Having technical skills (hard, or ‘critical’ skills as they’re called) backed up by higher education and positional authority, are to a great degree predictive of success. However, it’s been my experience that inter-relational skills (soft) are just as if not more predictive of success.
Anything I’ve ever accomplished in my career to this point (both personally and professionally) has been because of an ability to get things done through and with people. The data backs me up on this perspective and has for some time. These inter-relational (soft) skills are critical and are in demand in nearly every company and every industry.
A Wall Street Journal survey of 900 executives found that 92% said these kind of skills were equally or more important than technical skills. But 89% of those surveyed said they have a very or somewhat difficult time finding people with these kind of attributes. Likewise, LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Report discovered that the four most in-demand inter-relational (soft) skills are leadership, communication, collaboration, and time management. There’s nothing soft about any of these, I can assure you.
Are inter-relational skills a better predictor of success? According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence at Work, yes! His research of 500 executives found that emotional intelligence was a better predictor of top performance than previous experience or IQ. Additionally, CEO’s at some of the world’s top companies (Amazon, Xerox, and Tesla, to name a few) lead with emotional intelligence and have designed their entire corporate structure around these kind of skills.
The majority leadership style today in this country is still directed authority and those who have this skill often assume that inter-relational skills are only good for creating a fulfilling and pleasant work environment. However, the link between profit and leaders with high emotional intelligence is clear. In one study, CEO’s whose employees rated them high in character had an average return of 9.35% over a two-year period, nearly five times as much as companies with CEO’s who had low character ratings.
The case for recruiting for these kind of skills is strong, and there’s something to be said for balancing good leadership and communication with individuals who have honed their talent. This is not to say that hard skills should be ignored. Without specifically required knowledge, achieving desired objectives is very difficult.
Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, believes that to have a successful career, you must develop skills that make you an expert in something. There will always be a market for those with a depth of knowledge in one thing and certain fields will always demand new hires with niche skills and technical training. Newport argues that the more mastery you have in a skill or field, the more control and satisfaction you’ll have over your career.
While it’s true that technical masters do become top CEO’s (Steve Jobs and Bill Gates for example), other experts note that eventually, inter-relational skills and emotional intelligence must be learned. Many programmers, for example, have some of the basic hard skills that it takes to run a company but fall short on key EQ traits like listening.
Truth be told, the best leaders that started out as experts in their field, can and do learn and acquire really good inter-relational skills over time.