Soft Skills Are Hard

March 27, 2018

Many times “soft skills” are considered unimportant in business decisions. It is often a quantitative decision, based on dollars and cents that takes priority. Maybe, but soft skills are much harder to acquire than technical skills.

When we are hiring for a position, we look at resumes, accomplishments, education, companies worked for and progression through the ranks. These are easy to quantify and compare candidates to.

Being able to read a balance sheet, or understand technology, these are hard skills. But like another language, a chemical process, medical diagnoses or math, they can be learned. These things don’t pivot on the vagary of personal psychology.

To lead people, one must read people. Empathize. Understand their issues. Be able to inspire. We might infer soft skills from past performance, but it takes an interview to get a better understanding.

Soft skills are not skills that is often taught by any schools, particularly business schools, which seems odd because more often than not the soft skills are what put people in leadership positions. Mostly you have to rely on yourself.

Great leaders seem to be attuned to others, and less absorbed in their own personal dilemmas. The have to know when they can push the group past its comfort zone and when to calm everyone down.

Doctors are a good case in point. They are evaluated based on patient interaction more than technical skills. Diagnostics have become a more exact science as tests provide a lot of information, imagery, chemical signatures, etc. So what makes a great doctor? Soft skills. Dealing with people.

We have written before about what we called Gepetto Management., or “How to Turn Your Puppets into Real People.” Developing leaders within your team is your key to long term success. With every new position you assume, you have to take the view that to be promoted, you have to train a successor.

Once you have and effective team in place and someone who can do your job, two opportunities arise: one is to be promoted yourself and the other is to do things that will get you notice and you get credit for with your superiors. You never get much credit for doing your own job description.

A successor allows you freedom to pursue opportunities. That is a hard skill benefit from the soft skills.

A very smart investor I know has often told me, “Investing is a great business idea with only adequate management is not smart.  Better to look for a so-so idea with outstanding management.”  Good managers will find a way.  That’s soft skills overcoming the situation.

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