Hard skills are worthless by themselves and here’s why…

Undeniably, soft skills are the most under appreciated skillset in today’s workforce.  When we are looking to add people to our teams, clear cut experience always seems to take precedence over critical soft skill sets and I firmly believe that is a catastrophic disservice to the teams we lead and here’s why…

It’s completely rationale for us to look for the highest quality candidates when expanding our teams because we the teams we lead to be successful but experience isn’t always the answer to finding success. In addition, if we place too much emphasis on finding candidates with tangible experience and the necessary hard skill sets, we often end up neglecting the importance of the equally important soft skills.

In this article I’ll not only dive a little deeper into why I find that soft skills are so important but I will also identify what I believe to be the 3 most important soft skills that you look for in people you bring into your teams. Let’s get started…

First, what are hard skills? 

Well, for starters, hard skills are those tangible skills relevant to the task at hand.  For a mechanic, your ability to work on cars or experience rebuilding engines are examples of hard skills.  For a football player, a hard skill would be the ability to catch a football or run & tackle.  This is why it’s rational to look at the hard skills first when we are looking to add someone to our teams because the presence of necessary skill sets is often thought to correlate directly with producing results.

Let’s look at an example…

If we’re playing a pickup football game and it’s our turn to pick players first, we would pick the player with the strongest hard skills first right? You know, the fastest, strongest, & most athletic player.  Why?  Because we want someone who will excel in the role we are looking for them to fill. So we pursue the hard skills…

So then what are soft skills?

These are skills that are often less tangible or specific to a particular role or position, like the ability to problem solve, communicate effectively, be creative & innovative, etc.  Leadership and the willingness to be a team player are also great examples of soft skills.

So why are soft skills so important? 

If we go back to our pickup football game example and we pick the fastest, strongest most athletic player available (all hard skills), most people who support our team would be pretty excited, right?  We got the best player…

But what if that player doesn’t work well with others (cough, cough, Odell Beckham Junior for my fellow Browns fans)?  What if that player refuses to run the plays we call?  What if that player doesn’t respect his team captain and talks back to the coach?

Is that really a good fit for our team just because they possess the necessary hard skills and experience for their role?  No.  Of course not.  Because without the appropriate soft skills like being a team player, being humble and the ability to work well with others, those hard skills don’t get us very far…

For a mechanic (or any other job or role) it’s not much different.  Maybe a new hot-shot mechanic can rotate tires & fix an engine in record time or do twice as much work as the next person in their shop but without the appropriate soft skills, we are once again at a disadvantage.

What if that mechanic treats their coworkers poorly, or doesn’t follow instructions and are rude to customers?  What if they consistently show up late to work? Are their hard skills enough to ensure they are a good fit for the team? Again, no.

This is why soft skills are so important.  They are the bridge that separates an average experienced worker from someone who has the potential to be truly remarkable. Of course we want strong candidates with tangible experience but we also want to find people who work well with others, who are passionate about what they do, who are humble enough to be open to coaching and guidance from their leadership.  And most notably, we want people who want to continuously improve who they are and what they are capable of.

So what are the most important a soft skills?

Well, obviously this depends on what type of teams we lead or what type of role or responsibilities we hold.  Certain soft skills may be vital in one profession but that same skill might not really serve much of a purpose in another industry.  However, I believe there are 3 important soft skills that every employee or team member should possess and here they are:

  1. The ability to effectively communicate (notice the word effectively).
    1. As humans, we all have the ability to communicate in some way or another.  Effective communication is the crucial ability to not only be able to share your intended message with someone else but also be able to receive vital information from others as well.  You can send and receive information effectively.
    2. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mechanic, football players, doctor or astronaut, the ability to effectively communicate is a critical soft skill for everyone.
  2.  The ability to consistently solve problems with viable solutions
    1. Problem solving is one thing, but the ability to do so consistently is another. Again, regardless of your industry or profession, the ability to overcome challenges and solve problems plays a vital role in our success.  We must be adaptable to be effective in our ability to problem solve.
    2. However, problem solving in itself isn’t enough.  To truly be effective problem solvers, we need to be innovative in producing viable solutions that have lasting impacts and prevent the same problems from resurfacing.
  3. Finally, the ability to work well with others is a crucial soft skill
    1. Most of us have no choice but to work with others in our various industries but the ability to work well with others is vital to team success.  This means possessing the skills to be a true member of a team, take feedback, collaborate, and share success.
    2. Even if your are the most experienced candidate, if you don’t work well with others, that’s a deal breaker for me.

The reality is, if we are serious about finding the right people to join our teams, we need to value soft skills with equal importance (if not more importance) than hard skills.

Experience is valuable, but as leaders, we can provide our new team members with experience. We can teach, mentor and train new people on specific job functions.  But what isn’t so easy to teach are those vital soft skills we discussed above.  That’s why more often than not, I would take a candidate with strong soft skills even if they lack tangible experience time after time.

Show me someone that’s honest and hardworking, who communicates and problem solves effectively, and who works well with others and I’ll mentor them through the rest any day of the week.

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