Stop calling them soft skills - they're human skills

By Mark LeBusque. Published at Jul 30, 2020, in Features

‘You are never too old to reinvent yourself’ – Steve Harvey

There’s so much sameness in the world of work these days.

The jargon and corporate speak, meeting after meeting (now via Zoom), weekly reports, quarterly reviews and annual budgets keep us believing that if we just fit in, then the climb up the corporate ladder is going to be easier than if we are different in some way.

What if for a moment you became curious and looked to at least start reinventing yourself by throwing out some of the old jargon and create something that was more in tune with the humanistic world we operate in today?

This is a question that leadership consultant and creator of the human manager experience, Mark LeBusque asked himself as he grew tired of the way businesses were describing skills as ‘hard’ and ‘soft’.

Surely there’s a better way to capture the key skills managers need to be successful in the future?

First thing’s first...stop with the nonsense of the term ‘soft skills’.

How about we call them for what they really are?

They’re fundamental ‘human skills’ and it’s time we gave them the status they deserve.

Why are the words “hard” and “soft” rolled out to describe the skills that a manager needs to possess and execute to be successful in their day-to-day job?

Why is it that the more technical skills, the ones usually aligned to competence and easily measured, are labelled as “hard”, whilst the more behavioural skills that are more subjective are labelled as “soft”?

Consider these questions in a moment of reflection

What are you scared of if you fully embraced the term human skills and skilfully combined these with the technical skills?

What does labelling these skills in this way imply?

What is the broader impact by doing so?

To be human doesn’t mean being soft, hugging everyone and singing Kumbayah. That’s at the other end of the scale to reinvention, and with such upheaval in the world of business, staying the same equals extinction.

Start by thinking of it this way.

The manager who takes the path building their human skills is hardly being ‘soft’, but rather they are displaying courage in taking a different pathway and going down a different fork in the road to try and bring about sustainable success in a more human way.

It’s the manager who in their heart and gut knows the right thing to do and has to be prepared to “hold their nerve”, as the results of their progress are far harder to measure in the short term on a KPI sheet or Performance Management System.

I would, in fact, challenge that premise by saying that the SOFT STUFF IS THE HARD STUFF because it’s the HUMAN STUFF.

If it was soft and easy, wouldn’t we have reinvented the terms and ourselves by now?

Tapping into the human skills means creating an environment where all humans feel that they belong, contribute, are relevant, cared for, nurtured and developed.

It’s where compassion and empathy live, and you practice the art of duality – the skill to be able to hug another human and gently kick them in the backside at the same time!

It’s a place where:

  • Humans can talk about what they have enjoyed at work and achieved outside of work.
  • Healthy tension is viewed as the best way to unblock blockages across teams and organisations.
  • Human beings are proud to talk about who they work for.
  • Continuous learning is the norm.
  • The “unspoken” becomes the “spoken”.
  • Courage is favoured over compliance, and that human beings are likely to put themselves at the risk of not “fitting in” to the culture of the organisation.
  • Real work is done and at times “frenemies” or even "enemies" are made.
  • It’s the kind of place which removes old language, challenges the status quo and leads to positive organisational change.

So, what is your conclusion?

Should we interchange the terms “soft” and “hard” with “human” to better represent the work being done by a manager?

The answer is right in front of us and it doesn’t involve hugs and renditions of Kumbuyah.

It’s about tapping into our human skills, and embracing reinvention and the statement ‘why did it take a pandemic for us to become human’?

Reinvention starts with one simple change – Being Human.

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