Soft Skills Won’t Make You Soft

| Mission

This winter, I have the privilege of coaching my daughter’s middle school basketball team. I’ve often said that sports are a great teacher of life lessons—a lot of my growth and maturity happened during my time playing basketball at Trevecca. I’m thankful for the opportunity to mentor and teach this team of young ladies how to win on, and off, the court.

For a basketball team to be successful, one of my goals is to train the girls to obtain hard skills like becoming accurate shooters and ball-handling specialists. However, it’s equally important for players to learn soft skills such as good communication, collaborating with their teammates, adapting to changes during the game, and looking out for each other. When these soft skills are acquired, the team enjoys camaraderie, shared success, and the overall experience of working together towards a common goal. The combination of these hard and soft skills is what makes a team cohesive and capable of achieving success.

A balance of hard and soft skills is necessary for success in sports, the workplace, and beyond. While hard skills are essential for performing specific tasks and functions, soft skills contribute to effective communication, collaboration, and overall interpersonal effectiveness. Both hard and soft skills are valuable in building a well-rounded and adaptable professional profile. If you are new to this concept, here’s an article with a graphic that explains these skills in more detail.

I’m a huge proponent of mastering both sets of skills, and here are a few reasons why I believe so strongly in their importance:

1. Intrinsic Value

Recognizing and valuing both hard and soft skills lays the groundwork for balanced, compassionate leadership. Both types of skills enable a leader to connect with team members on multiple levels. While hard skills are vital to most professions, compassionate leaders understand that inspiration and motivation often stem from more than just technical expertise. Soft skills such as emotional intelligence and the ability to inspire and motivate others are instrumental in driving a team towards shared goals.

Both skills have value in the workplace. Hard skills are crucial for entering a specific profession or industry, especially those with a high level of expertise. Without training gained at school and beyond, employees aren’t prepared to perform job-related tasks and functions. On the other hand, soft skills are essential for effective collaboration and teamwork. They are critical in navigating change and uncertainty. Soft skills play a crucial role in building trust and rapport with team members. Leaders and employees who effectively communicate, actively listen, and show empathy build stronger relationships, leading to increased trust and loyalty within the team.

2. Hard Skills Aren’t Enough

I believe highlighting the importance of soft skills is crucial because they are often the underlying drivers of success in various aspects of life. They enable effective communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and adaptability. They contribute significantly to workplace dynamics, leadership effectiveness, and overall personal development, making them essential for achieving your goals.

Success in a leadership role isn’t solely dependent on the ability to analyze financial statements or create strategic plans. It involves leading and managing people, understanding their motivations, and fostering a collaborative and innovative culture within an organization. Effective communication, empathy, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence are soft skills crucial for navigating the complexities of human interaction in a professional setting.

People often think getting a well-respected MBA degree (or any degree, really) means you’re fully set to enter the workforce. But just having a degree doesn’t automatically mean you’re ready to effectively lead and collaborate in a work setting. It’s important to recognize that success in a career and life extends beyond technical proficiency. Leadership isn’t solely about qualifications—it’s about a blend of hard and soft skills that encompass communication, empathy, adaptability, and teamwork.

3. Put Them into Practice

Meet my friend Maria, a working mom who balances her career and family. She’s great at her job because she’s good at managing projects and making decisions (hard skills). But what really helps her is her ability to manage her time, talk to people, and understand their feelings (soft skills).

Once, Maria had a work deadline at the same time as her child's school event. She used her hard skills to do her work well but relied on her soft skills to talk to her team. She explained her situation and found a solution that worked for everyone without sacrificing her family time. Maria’s hard skills help her do her job, but it’s her soft skills that help her manage tough situations and balance work with family.

Maria’s story serves as a reminder that these skills—both hard and soft—are essential not only in professional realms but also in navigating our personal lives. By leveraging her mix of hard and soft skills, Maria successfully managed the balancing act between work and family, showcasing their relevance to all of us.

To employ these skills more effectively, we can focus on not just personal development but also on how we interact with others. Prioritizing workshops or initiatives centered around communication, empathy, and time management enables us to harness these abilities better. By creating a workplace culture that values and prioritizes these skills alongside technical expertise, we foster an environment where collaboration and understanding thrive.

Another great example is Rita Pierson, an educator who was known for her impactful teaching style and her famous TED Talk titled “Every Kid Needs a Champion.” Her hard skills as an educator included her knowledge of pedagogy, curriculum design, and subject expertise. She knew her content thoroughly and understood the intricacies of teaching methodologies.

However, what made Rita truly exceptional was her mastery of soft skills. She possessed an infectious enthusiasm for teaching and a genuine love for her students. Her ability to connect with her students on an emotional level, understand their needs, and empathize with their struggles set her apart. She understood the power of encouragement and positive reinforcement, creating a classroom environment that fostered confidence and a love for learning. Rita believed in the potential of every student and worked tirelessly to build their self-esteem and resilience. She emphasized that while content knowledge is crucial, it’s the human connection, empathy, encouragement, and the ability to inspire that truly make a great teacher.

Rita Pierson’s story exemplifies that the best educators possess a combination of hard skills (pedagogical knowledge, subject expertise), and soft skills (empathy, communication, encouragement) that allow them to truly impact their students’ lives and create an environment where learning flourishes.

In the broader scope of life, these hard and soft skills are not just prerequisites for job roles or promotions, they're fundamental tools that shape meaningful relationships, foster personal growth, and help us navigate the complexities of human interaction in various aspects of life. By recognizing the unique strengths of each skill set, we empower ourselves to leverage them appropriately. Embracing this distinction allows us to tailor our approach—utilizing hard skills for accomplishing tasks and relying on soft skills to build connections and navigate interpersonal dynamics. This differentiation is essential, as it helps us appreciate the diverse ways in which these skills contribute to our personal and professional lives.

Moreover, these skills keep us rooted in our shared humanity, reminding us to prioritize others and their needs. They enable us to connect on a deeper level, fostering relationships built on empathy and understanding. Ultimately, embracing soft skills helps us to stay grounded in our humanity. Never forget that beyond our roles and titles, we are all just humans navigating our individual and unique paths. Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

Dr. Kristin Bledsoe is a leadership educator currently serving as an Academic Dean for the School of Leadership and Interdisciplinary Studies at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is also an associate professor, teaching in multiple programs from associate to doctorate level, with a strong understanding of online learning, teaching, and engagement. Kristin is committed to enhancing the student experience and overall student success. She recently co-authored and published an article on Mentoring New Online Graduate Teaching Assistance in Taylor & Francis' Online Journal. Kristin's most recent certifications have been as an Emotional Intelligence Practitioner, Cognitive Behavioral Life Coach, and Certified Emotional Intelligence Life Coach. She recently graduated from the Independent Colleges and Universities Association's (TICUA) Executive Leadership Institute.