Ever see those guys in the gym? You know, the ones who look like a body double for a 90s style Arnold Schwarzenegger. They might appear to be in perfect shape, but several lack the flexibility, balance and agility to keep up with the average teenage bookworm. This is not a slight (seriously, huge people at the gym, I mean no offense) it’s simply symptomatic of focusing on one area at the expense of others.
Many employees make the same mistake when it comes to developing their professional skills. Although they feverishly work on the technical skills and abilities required to do their jobs they pay little mind to the non-technical abilities that make up how they do their jobs. This results in the over development of the skill equivalent of “mirror muscles.” There’s nothing wrong with looking good, but function needs to balance form.
The Importance of Soft Skills
Hard skills are what people do. For example, for finance and accounting professionals, the term can refer to the technical and subject matter expertise they have to perform a number of tasks including how to balance a budget and provide an accurate forecast.
Soft skills, or the how they do this, relate to variety of skills including their ability to present findings, interact with customers, or influence leaders to make the right choices. These skills are critical because they provide the x-factor or value added component of a job. For example, anyone with hard skills can present data. Influencing stakeholders to make the right call based on a robust analysis is the real value in the service.
Developing Soft Skills
For many people soft skills are woefully underdeveloped by the time they decide to hit the professional development gym. This is no surprise considering that most formal schooling and corporate training is focused on “left brain” activities i.e. math, science and other how to do activities. Of course, managers and knowledge workers need to frequently flex their right brains i.e. those tasks of a more creative persuasion.
The good news is soft skills are not an inborn trait. And while some people may have a natural talent or disposition for a specific competency, the basics can be learned and developed over time. Formal training and executive coaching can help. Most often however, deliberate practice is the way to get better.
For more on deliberate practice techniques or soft skill development, contact me using the form above.
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