“Soft skills get little respect, but they will make or break your career.”
– Peggy Klaus
In the late 1960s, the U.S. Army created the term “soft skills” to refer to any skill that does not employ the use of machinery. “The military realized that many important activities were included within this category, and in fact, the social skills necessary to lead groups, motivate soldiers, and win wars were encompassed by skills they had not yet cataloged or fully studied.”
These “soft skills” — communication, conflict resolution, attitude, adaptability, empathy, and relationship-building — to name just a few- are at the core of building trust in teamwork.
Studies, including by Harvard, the Stanford Research Center, and the Carnegie Foundation, have concluded that job success correlates much more closely to having well‐developed soft and people skills (85 percent) than from technical skills and knowledge (15 percent).
As leaders, how do these skills factor into our daily work?
1. Human skills and trust when choosing leaders: the performance vs. trust graph
Simon Sinek describes how he went to the Navy Seals’ head and asked how they selected their “elite group.” They described the “performance vs. trust” graph, with “performance” on one axis and “trust” on the other axis — a framework they use for selecting effective leaders. While everyone ideally wants a leader who scores the highest on both performance and trust, it is better to have a medium-performer with a high trust quotient than a high performer with low trust. A high performer with low trust is a toxic team member.
As leaders, it is imperative that we not only consider the “hard skills” (performance) but also the “soft skills” (trust-enhancing human skills) when making decisions on hiring, promoting, and appraising others.
2. Human skills and trust in building leaders: You’re not necessarily born with it
A study of 195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global asked the question: What makes an effective leader? The top leadership competencies were all the so-called “soft skills,” skills at the heart of building trust. While a few of the most important leadership characteristics are an inherent part of who a person is — such as high moral and ethical standards – other top characteristics, such as effective communication, can and should be taught.
3. Human skills and trust – a shift in paradigm: Trust is about looking outwardly
Often, the focus in leadership is on the leader: the leader’s charisma, vision, strategy, and talents. True leadership requires a paradigm shift. It is about those whom one leads: “It’s about empowering other people as a result of your presence and about making sure that the impact of your leadership continues into your absence.”
Trust is one of those potentially elusive entities that comes when we look outwardly, not inwardly. Instead of asking, “What can I do to so that others trust me?” shift your focus to ask what do others need? In a nutshell: Trust is not about you as the leader. Trust is about those you are leading.
4. Human skills and trust starting with oneself: Build trust in yourself
When we think of building trust as leaders, we tend to focus on gaining others’ trust. However, it’s important to remember that part of growing as a leader is building trust in oneself. After all, “If you don’t trust yourself, why should anybody else trust you?” Work with a mentor, be honest with yourself, and practice self-compassion as you lead.
Trust is a core tenet of effective leadership. To gain it, leaders need to excel not only in performance-focused “hard skills” but perhaps more importantly in the so-called “soft skills” or human skills. There is nothing soft about “soft skills.” They are at the heart of effective leadership.
Sherine Salib is an internal medicine physician.
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