Soft is the new hard

We’ll focus on soft skills once the essential work gets done. That’s what some misguided leaders still say.

Wake up: Soft is the new hard.

The “soft skills” (emotional intelligence, communication, collaboration, team building, etc.) of business have always been at the root of successful entities. These skills, which are actually harder to implement for most organizations than “the numbers,” are what humanize and connect all they do.

In a recent coffee chat with my friend and mentor, Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks Coffee, he nearly jumped out of his chair as this topic surfaced. “Every business is in the people business, period,” he preached. “How you care for and align the human beings in your organization is everything.”

Why is this relevant even more today than yesterday and even more important for tomorrow?

Changes are happening all around us. Disruptions in new technology, generational transitions and disgruntled relations among people are at the center of almost every news story around the globe. Our organizations have never needed these “soft skills” more than they do now. The people within our organizations are crying out for leadership, support and direction.

So, what are the best leaders, teams and organizations doing to proactively grow and harness these skills? Well, here are a few elements of what the best are doing:

  • Engage minds and hearts — Old training modules or “death by power point” leadership trainings are exchanged for experiential learning sessions that touch the mind and hearts of participants. These are not add-on programs, but embedded as essential learnings to thrive in the culture. They meet people where they are and help them shift thinking and behavior.
  • Connect with accurate stories — The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has taken place. The best teams use compelling stories that are rooted in their values to help drive the behaviors they desire. They proactively create environments for good communication and storytelling to take place. Communication is a two-way street.
  • Drop anchors Learning and development is not a one-time thing. It’s not a program. It’s not an initiative. It gets anchored in everything they do from hiring to onboarding to performance evaluations to emerging leaders to the senior leadership team. They strategically anchor thoughts, actions and interactions over the long haul that support the culture they want to create.

No matter what role you play in your organization, your ability (or inability) to connect with, communicate with and collaborate with human beings will determine your level of effectiveness.

Remember, the “soft” stuff might be hard at times, but it will sure make your path smoother along the way.


Jason V. Barger is a globally celebrated keynote speaker, leadership coach and author of “Thermostat Cultures,” “Step Back from the Baggage Claim” and “ReMember.” He is founder of Step Back Leadership Consulting, a Columbus-based company that works with businesses and organizations worldwide.