Sunday, May 3, 2009

What are Soft Skills?

What are soft skills?

Soft skills refer to a very diverse range of abilities such as:

  • Self-awareness

  • Analytical thinking

  • Leadership skills

  • Team-building skills

  • Flexibility

  • Ability to communicate effectively

  • Creativity

  • Problem-solving skills

  • Listening skills

  • Change-readiness

Many people often refer to 'soft skills' as 'people skills' or 'emotional intelligence'. Hard skills are the technical abilities required to do a job or perform a task: essentially they are acquired through training and education programs. Importance of Soft Skills according to psychologist Daniel Coleman, is a combination of competencies that contribute to a person's ability to manage his or herself and relate to other people-matters twice as much as IQ or technical skills in job success.

Results of a recent study on the importance of soft skills indicated that the single most important soft skill for a job candidate to possess was interpersonal skills, followed by written or verbal communication skills and the ability to work under pressure. A constantly changing work environment - due to technology, customer-driven markets, an information-based economy and globalisation that are currently impacting on the structure of the workplace and leading to an increased reliance on, and demand for, soft skills.

Soft skills are not a replacement for hard- or technical-skills. They are, in many instances, complementary, and serve to unlock the potential for highly effective performance in people qualified with the requisite hard skills.

If you ask people around the world what people need to have in order to be good business leaders, you usually get very similar responses. Good business leaders know their industries and their products, have a good strategy, know how to take risks, know how to motivate people, have charisma and know how to negotiate and communicate with people, etc. From this vantage point, you might think a good business leader in one country or culture will probably be a good leader in another country or culture.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a global leadership style that works in all countries and cultures. Consider what would have happened if the 2004 U.S. elections had taken place in other countries. There are very few countries besides the U.S. where George W. Bush would have prevailed over John Kerry. Yet he did, because he embodied, to a greater extent than his opponent, the attributes and skills Americans want to see in their leader.

You will see this difference if you ask people in different cultures or countries to determine the top three skills or attributes they want to see in their leaders. You will see the top three skills expected by Dutch are not the same as the top three skills required by Argentineans, for example.

One key difference is the relative importance of soft skills versus technical skills. Here, soft skills refers to interpersonal / communication / negotiation / conflict resolution / teamwork / managerial skills. Technical skills and soft skills are independent of each other and we can represent them graphically.

In the graph, someone who has high technical skills and low soft skills is in the top left square.
The key question is: what do lines of equal value to the organization look like? The answer is that these lines are quite different depending on the culture or country where this organization has its headquarters. The more hierarchical the country or culture, the more flat lines of equal value to the organization will be. For example, being a good leader in Russia requires, first and foremost, strong technical skills; good soft skills are a bonus, but it does not make a major difference. In Anglo-Saxon countries (which are mildly hierarchical), soft skills matter significantly more than in hierarchical countries, because you cannot force employees to do what you want them to do just because you said so and you are the leader. In these countries, the ability to work well with people is more important. It is even more important in Scandinavian countries, which are quite egalitarian; there, a good leader is primarily someone who has the ability to channel the initiatives and energies of all his or her employees and finds ways to ensure they all move in the same direction.

Keep this point in mind when you work with people coming from other cultures or countries. What they want to see in their leaders may not be what you want to see. Moreover, what they want to see may not be the skills you have been trying to develop throughout your professional life. If you are an expatriate or if your responsibilities include the management of overseas operations, make sure you understand what your employees expect from their leaders – and ask others if you are not sure.

(Reference taken from Google)


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