Why “Soft” Skills Are More Important Than Ever

For many years I downplayed the importance of soft skills, both in my own life and career and with candidates and employees. Why? Because they were too “soft” and I only wanted to be seen as a strong, hard-skill hitting business professional. Little did I know that soft skills are actually where it’s at. They are what will set you apart from others on your career journey.

Let’s break down the differences between soft and hard skills and talk about why it’s more important than ever to develop your soft skills to succeed at work and life.

What’s the Difference Between Hard Skills and Soft Skills?

The terms “hard skills” and “soft skills” originated as a way to distinguish between two types of skills that individuals possess. The distinction lies in the nature of the skills themselves and how they are acquired and measured.

Hard Skills

“Hard” skills are called so because they are often easier to quantify, measure, and assess objectively. These skills are specific, concrete, and usually require technical expertise or specialized knowledge. They can be taught, learned, and tested through formal education, training programs, and certifications. Hard skills are often job-specific and can be directly applied to perform tasks or complete projects. Examples of hard skills include programming, data analysis, accounting, and proficiency in using specific software or tools.

Soft Skills

On the other hand, “soft” skills are more challenging to quantify and measure in a standardized way. These skills are related to interpersonal interactions, communication, and emotional intelligence. They involve personal attributes, behaviors, and qualities that influence how individuals interact with others and navigate various situations. Soft skills are not easily taught through traditional classroom methods and are typically developed through experiences, practice, and self-awareness. Examples of soft skills include communication, teamwork, leadership, empathy, and problem-solving.

The distinction between these two terms helps employers, educators, and individuals recognize the diverse range of skills required for success in various aspects of life, from professional roles to personal relationships.

Examples of Soft Skills for Force Multipliers

Soft skills are crucial for personal development, building strong relationships, and excelling in a variety of professional fields. While technical skills and knowledge are important, it’s often soft skills that differentiate outstanding performers in the workplace. Force Multipliers can (and should) lean into soft skills like:

  1. Communication: The ability to convey information clearly and effectively through verbal, nonverbal, and written means. This includes active listening, empathy, and the capacity to adapt communication style to different audiences.
  2. Collaboration: The skill of working harmoniously with others in a team or group setting. This involves compromising, sharing responsibilities, and contributing positively to achieve common goals.
  3. Problem-Solving: The capability to analyze complex situations, identify issues, and generate creative solutions. Soft problem-solving skills also involve critical thinking and decision-making.
  4. Adaptability: Being flexible and open to change, especially in dynamic and evolving work environments. Adaptability includes being willing to learn new skills and adjust to unexpected situations.
  5. Time Management: Efficiently allocating time to tasks and projects, setting priorities, and meeting deadlines. Good time management also involves avoiding procrastination and staying organized.
  6. Leadership: The ability to guide, motivate, and inspire others to achieve their best performance. Leadership also entails making fair decisions, managing conflicts, and being a role model.
  7. Emotional Intelligence: Being attuned to one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and interpersonal skills.
  8. Creativity: Thinking innovatively and developing new ideas, solutions, or approaches. Creativity can enhance problem-solving and contribute to overall organizational growth.
  9. Conflict Resolution: Skillfully addressing and resolving disagreements or conflicts in a productive and respectful manner. This involves effective communication, negotiation, and compromise.
  10. Networking: Building and maintaining relationships with colleagues, clients, and industry professionals. Networking can help with career growth, learning from others, and staying informed about industry trends.
  11. Interpersonal Skills: Navigating social interactions, building rapport, and forming positive relationships with others. Interpersonal skills include active listening, empathy, and effective communication.
  12. Teamwork: Collaborating effectively with others, sharing responsibilities, and contributing to team goals. Strong teamwork skills involve being supportive, cooperative, and respectful of diverse viewpoints.
  13. Presentation Skills: Delivering information, ideas, or reports to an audience in a clear, engaging, and confident manner. Effective presentation skills are important for conveying information persuasively.
  14. Negotiation Skills: Engaging in discussions to reach agreements or compromises that satisfy both parties. Negotiation skills involve active listening, persuasive communication, and finding common ground.
  15. Work Ethic: Demonstrating reliability, diligence, and a strong commitment to completing tasks to the best of one’s ability. A good work ethic is essential for professional success and building trust.

I personally believe that excellent soft skills demonstrate a desire to grow and learn in every situation. In my opinion, great soft skills are what level up an executive support professional to a true Force Multiplier.

Examples of Hard Skills For Force Multipliers

While I believe it’s vitally important to work on your soft skills in order to succeed, executive support professional jobs often do require specific hard skills to perform tasks and projects effectively and efficiently. As mentioned above, hard skills are specific, teachable abilities or knowledge that are typically acquired through education, training, and experience. Here are some examples of basic hard skills that might be required for a Force Multiplier job:

  1. Microsoft Office Suite or Google Business: Proficiency in using Microsoft Word/Google Docs, Excel/Sheets, PowerPoint/Slides, and Outlook/Gmail for creating documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and managing emails and calendars.
  2. Calendar Management: Ability to efficiently manage and organize schedules, appointments, meetings, and events for the executives.
  3. Travel Arrangements: Skill in arranging travel logistics, including booking flights, accommodations, transportation, and creating detailed itineraries.
  4. Time Management: Strong ability to prioritize tasks, handle multiple projects, and manage deadlines effectively.
  5. Communication Skills: Excellent written and verbal communication skills to interact with executives, colleagues, clients, and external stakeholders.
  6. Project Coordination: Proficiency in assisting with project management tasks, such as tracking project progress, coordinating team efforts, and preparing project documentation.
  7. Research Skills: Aptitude for conducting research and gathering relevant information on various topics, industries, and trends.
  8. Event Planning: Experience in assisting with event planning and coordination, including organizing meetings, conferences, and corporate events.
  9. Technical Proficiency: Depending on the organization, familiarity with specific software or tools used for internal communication, project management, or industry-specific tasks.
  10. Organization Tools: Familiarity with task management tools, project management software, and cloud-based platforms for collaboration.

This list of hard skills only scratches the surface. There are lots of technical skills required to succeed in an Executive Assistant or Executive Business Partner role, and the specific hard skills required can vary depending on the industry, company size, and the executives’ needs.

So, Why Are Soft Skills More Important Now Than Ever?

Soft skills are the foundation for effective communication, collaboration, and adaptability in an ever-changing professional landscape. They not only enhance job performance but also contribute to personal growth, career advancement, and overall well-being. As the world becomes more interconnected and dynamic, individuals who possess strong soft skills are better equipped to succeed in their careers and personal lives.

Here are several reasons why soft skills are so important right now:

  1. Changing Work Environments: The modern workplace is evolving rapidly, with remote work, virtual teams, and flexible arrangements becoming more common. Effective communication, adaptability, and teamwork are crucial for navigating these new work structures.
  2. Globalization: Businesses are increasingly operating on a global scale, requiring employees to work with diverse teams and interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Strong interpersonal skills and cultural sensitivity are essential for building successful relationships in this context.
  3. Automation and Technology: As automation and technology reshape industries, the demand for uniquely human skills like creativity, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking is rising. These skills are difficult to replicate through automation and AI.
  4. Customer-Centric Focus: Organizations are placing a greater emphasis on providing exceptional customer experiences. Soft skills such as empathy, active listening, and problem-solving play a pivotal role in understanding and meeting customer needs.
  5. Collaboration and Innovation: Cross-functional collaboration and innovation are central to staying competitive. Soft skills like collaboration, open communication, and the ability to work well in diverse teams are essential for driving creativity and innovation.
  6. Complex Problem-Solving: The modern business landscape is filled with complex challenges that require holistic and adaptable approaches. Soft skills like critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and adaptability are vital for tackling these issues.
  7. Leadership and Management: Effective leadership and management rely heavily on soft skills like emotional intelligence, empathy, and the ability to motivate and inspire teams. A skilled leader can positively impact team performance and morale.
  8. Entrepreneurship and Startups: Entrepreneurs and startup founders need to wear multiple hats and interact with various stakeholders. Soft skills like networking, negotiation, and effective communication are critical for building partnerships and securing funding.
  9. Employee Well-being: Organizations are recognizing the importance of employee well-being and job satisfaction. Soft skills play a role in creating a positive work environment, fostering strong relationships, and promoting mental health.
  10. Personal Branding and Networking: In today’s connected world, personal branding and networking are essential for career growth and opportunities. Soft skills such as communication, active listening, and relationship-building are key for establishing a strong professional presence.
  11. Ethical Decision-Making: With increased attention on ethical behavior and social responsibility, individuals need strong ethical reasoning and decision-making skills to navigate complex moral dilemmas.
  12. Resilience and Mental Health: Soft skills like emotional intelligence and resilience are crucial for managing stress, adapting to changes, and maintaining positive mental health.

I think we often go right to hard skills when we think about continuing education and career development. But I would argue that an emphasis on soft skills like leadership, problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills will get your further and be more transferable in your career than a specific software designation. Now, don’t get me wrong, those are important too! But those can often be learned on the job based on the needs of the organization.

Soft skills will help you lead yourself and others, lead up to your Principal, communicate the vision, navigate change in your organization, make better decisions, and be a strong strategic business partner. Where I was once skeptical, now I say, lean into those soft skills and make them a priority. You won’t regret it! And even if you do, you’ll have enough soft skills (like adaptability and emotional intelligence) to handle it. 😉

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