Some Books to Help Develop Soft Skills – with Update

The path to success can be summed up in a lot of ways.  How about this one:  develop competency in both the hard skills and the soft skills needed to succeed at the job you choose.

So success is easy.  Just become competent at a wide range of skills.

But it turns out that coming up with a definitive list of soft skills is not all that easy.  My blogging colleague Cheryl Jensen put it this way: “Soft is a misnomer.  These skills are sophisticated and complex, but they are not soft.”

I agree – but since they are not so readily “tangible” (e.g., how to use a spread sheet) they present different kinds of challenges.  And as good as we might be at each one, we can always improve.  For example, I’m a pretty decent expert at using a calculator for simple math – I am nothing close to an expert at successfully solving problems, or listening.

One job search web site suggested this difference between hard skills and soft skills:

Hard skills are tangible – activities that you do.

Soft skills are the abstract, personal qualities that you possess:

Here is a suggested list of some key soft skills (compiled from an array of sources):

1. Strong Work Ethic.
2. Positive Attitude.
3. Good Communication Skills.
• speaking
• listening
• writing
4. Time Management Abilities.
5. Problem-Solving Skills.
6. Acting as a Team Player.
7. Self-Confidence.
8. Ability to Accept and Learn From Criticism.
9. Flexibility/Adaptability.
10. Working Well Under Pressure.

And add to the list:
Facilitating Meetings

ONe way to improve is to read good books that recommend strategies for improvement.  So, here is my suggested reading list for some of these (you may have better suggestions – let our readers know in the comments, please).  Note:  not all of the books are a perfect match, there may really be better choices, and you will note that I did not include all of the soft skills form the list above.  Let’s consider this a first attempt at such a  list…

Soft Skill Suggested Book
Strong Work Ethic Michael Jordan, I Can’t Accept Not TryingMalcolm Gladwell, OutliersGeoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated
Good Communication Skills(listening, speaking, writing) Frank Luntz, Words that WorkChip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick
Time Management Abilities David Allen, Getting Things Done
Problem-Solving Skills James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds
Acting as a Team Player Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Flexibility/Adaptability Gary Hamil, The Future of Management
Working Well Under Pressure Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement:
Schmoozing/networking Keith Ferrazzi, Never Eat AloneSusan RoAne, How to Work a Room
Coaching Gary Harpst, Six Disciplines Execution Revolution
Brainstorming Tom Kelley, The Art of Innovation

For further reading:
Top 10 Soft Skills for Job Hunters
Filed under: Interview Tips, Resumes , Career Advice
By Kate Lorenz, Editor


Here’s an update from my blogging colleague, Bob Morris.  I requested his feedback, and he sent this:

Re the so-called “soft skills,” I think the most important are:

candor (without cruelty)
sensitivity to others’ feelings (especially vulnerabilities)
undivided attention
unsolicited support and encouragement

Re the list of recommended titles, my recommendations are:

The Book (Alan Watts)
Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman)
The Executive’s Compass (James O’Toole)
The Heart Aroused (David Whyte)
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

My response:  I have my students read Dr. King’s letter.  It is a true masterpiece.  I think it should be mandatory reading for all!

And I especially like Bob’s phrase:  “candor without cruelty.”  Candor is hard enough. Without cruelty takes a near saint to pull off.

Thanks, Bob.


To purchase my synopses of many of these suggested books, with audio + handout, visit our companion web site,


4 thoughts on “Some Books to Help Develop Soft Skills – with Update

  1. Here are a couple of soft skills – initiative and innovation. I’ve noticed that those who sneer at “soft skills” are often those who have no command of them. Nothing wimpy about soft skills.

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