It’s the Soft Skills that’ll Kill You – (Hard Skills are Plenty Demanding, but the Soft Skills present such Ongoing Challenge)

I know how to use my calendar apps, all on the cloud. I am such a wiz at this!

I am so bad at communication in so many ways.

Let’s go back to the knowing-doing gap.

Once I learn a new app, a new way to function with my technology (I put all my appointments on the cloud with my Mac devices), I’ve pretty much got it down. It was something to learn; I learned it; I do it…

In other words, for a lot of my every day functioning, I have no knowing-doing gap.

But, the other stuff… my goodness, do I know a bunch of stuff that I do not do so effectively!

And, these items “worthy of my attention” never quite go away. Kind of like a baseball player whose swing at the plate is so good – until it isn’t.

Here’s a tennis example of this challenge. Years ago, in my college tennis days, our team was annually humiliated by the team from Trinity University. We were a good mid-level team. They were a national champion team in Division 1.

the great tennis coach, Clarence Mabry
the great tennis coach, Clarence Mabry

During one tournament final, our coach was sitting next to the great Clarence Mabry, then coach at Trinity. (He led his team to one national championship, and close a few other times — and he coached 10 All-Americans).

They were watching a close match between two top players. Coach Mabry commented, “he’s going to lose.” The players were tied, each holding serve, and Mabry identified the soon-to-be loser. Our coach asked, “how do you see that?” And Coach Mabry had noticed that that player had started to slightly move his shoulder just a touch the wrong way on his serve. Sure enough, a couple of games later, he lost his serve, and lost the match. The player had forgotten to do what he knew to do. And the keen eye of Coach Mabry saw the subtle, almost invisible failure to stick to one of the fundamentals, and rightly predicted that it would cost him the match.

Most “failures” of leadership are a failure to stick to the fundamentals. It is a failure to do what one knows to do — something you do effectively for a while, but then, you simply start to slip…

They know it — they just don’t do it.

Which areas do you excel at?  Where do you need improvement?
Which areas do you excel at? Where do you need improvement?  (Click on image for full view).

Recently, I was speaking to the top 30 leaders of a mid-size organization. We went through my “bubbles” (see image). And they identified whet they did well, and what they needed to improve. It was pretty unanimous agreement – “we really need to improve our communication.”

Here’s the thing. They already know what they need to know to communicate effectively.

I will lead a future session on communication for them. Oh, I might provide a little refinement. But what I will really provide is a heavy dose of “reminder” for them. Not teaching; not new training; just, “remember to do this stuff, and you’ll get better” reminder messaging.

This is the “hard skill vs. soft skill” divide. The hard skills are demanding, yes. You can fail at these. But they are learnable – a little more on the tangible, practicable side. (I know how to use my calendar, on the cloud. Now, what’s my next technology tool to learn?)

The soft skills? These really are business success fundamentals. And you ignore them as long as you can, it seems… and then you finally say, “I’d better work on them. I guess.” You intend to improve, and yet you still need more improvement. You always need more improvement.

And it’s the failure in these soft skills that’ll kill you.


12_vital_signs_to_organisational_health_2D_coverMy e-book, 12 Vital Signs of Organizational Health, provides an overview for each of the the areas in my bubbles image above.

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