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Let’s drop the “hard” and “soft” labels when it comes to skills.

We often hear the terms hard skills and soft skills. I am not sure of the origin of these terms, but it is a time to drop them. The reality is that there are technical and tactical skills and there are human skills. Technical and tactical skills are what are historically referred to as hard skills. Skills of human connection, active listening, effective communication, being present, curiosity, rapport building, emotional intelligence and love are historically referred to as soft skills. There is however, nothing soft about them. They are hard to master and hard to employ in today’s volatile, complex, chaotic and emotionally charged world.

As a leader you need technical and tactical skills, and you need human skills. Historically the emphasis has been on the technical and tactical and the human skills (labeled as soft) have been pushed off to the side. After all, no one wants to be considered “soft” as a leader.

You are human. The men and women you lead are human and your customers or clients are human. So why do we not put more emphasis on developing the human skills? Is it because they are “soft”? Or is it actually because they are hard and uncomfortable to learn and use? It is easier to teach people to be robotic in dealing with other people. It is easier to teach you the technical and tactical skills of management because they tend to be easier to quantify and measure. Your technical and tactical skills may in fact be what got you promoted into a formal leadership position. The problem is that probably no one told you that once you got promoted, those technical and tactical skills will become less important and what will help you be a great leader are the human skills.

With human skills there is no simple three-step process or checklist to follow. There is a lot of trial and error. Every human is different and will need different things from you at different times. There are underlying elements to human skills in that people want to be seen, heard, understood, valued and appreciated. They want to feel like they belong and like they are part of something bigger than themselves. They want to know that the leader cares about them. In essence, they want a leader with strong Human Skills.

Take time to reflect on your skillset. Where do your strengths lie? Are you strong in the technical and tactical skills, but lacking in the human skills? In your personal training plan for the next year where is your focus? Are most of the planned courses focused on the technical and tactical or the human skills? What about your reading list? Is it mainly books on technical and tactical skills, mainly human skills or a blend?

Think of the times when you have worked for a boss with great technical and tactical skills and little of no skills in the human realm. How inspired were you working for that boss? Do you want to be that kind of boss, or would you rather be a leader? If you want to be a leader, work on developing your human skills.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey. Register Now for the Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop.

Brian Willis