Welcome to…The Age of Soft Skills

"“Soft skills just became a hard fact.” We’ve been saying it for a few years but now we are well and truly in The Age of Soft Skills. By soft skills we mean the ability…"

“Soft skills just became a hard fact.”

We’ve been saying it for a few years but now we are well and truly in The Age of Soft Skills.

By soft skills we mean the ability to communicate, motivate, inspire, connect and care. All those very human skills that, in an age of technology, still make us humans very unique. And as it turns out…very valuable.

Research from Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center found that 85% of career success comes from having well-developed soft skills and people skills. Hard skills, including technical skills and knowledge, only make up 15% of career success.

Another study found that 92% of talent professionals said soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills when it comes to hiring, and 80% said they’re increasingly important to company success.

Gone are the days when your hard skills and technical knowledge can guarantee your ongoing success, career progression or even job security. Whether you are a team leader or technician, early in career or engineer, CEO or solopreneur, prime minister or primary school teacher – if you really want to invest in yourself as a leader or individual, if you really want to build top teams, if you really want to hold on to your best people and if you really want to future-proof your organisation – you need to invest in soft skills.

Your soft skills and people skills are no longer just a nice add-on. We are a long way from the days when a one-day course in communication skills every year or even decade is enough to tick the leadership box. Today – every day is soft skills day. Every day is the day to focus on, develop and hone your communication skills and increase your leadership impact.

Because as technology increases and AI continues to expand, your communication skills are the key to your success.

“As the impact of AI and disruptive technology grows, candidates who can perform tasks that machines cannot are becoming more valuable.” – Harvard Business Review.

And even if you are in a specialist field such as engineering – studies still reveal that personal qualities are 7x more important than technical knowledge when it comes to career success.

“…strong soft skills—the one thing that machines can’t replace—are becoming absolutely vital.”

In other words, for all of us human beings – in whatever field we work – soft skills are where we need to invest more of our time and attention. As well as our resources.

Current spending for organisations is the wrong way round. The average business spends the majority of its development budget on hard skills, when the research is clear that, even if budgets are tight, it is investment in soft skills that bring the most benefits for your organisation.

At 4D we are often approached by individuals and leaders who KNOW how much they want and need to invest in their communication and people skills but ask us if they can self-fund as they do not believe their organisation would support them. This phenomenon has increased month on month over the past few years and some organisations need to now catch up with what is needed.

So, it’s time to get focussed and intentional around great leaders being great communicators so that we are ready to thrive in this new era.

The 4 things on the 4D soft skills checklist to help you become super successful in this new age are a focus on: The Interpersonal, your Impact, Improvisation and Inspiration. So let’s take a look at what you can do to dial up your 4 soft super skills and take your personal impact to the next level.

  1. Interpersonal

Quite simply a focus on what goes on between you and other people. This is about getting good, no actually, it’s about getting great, at relationship. At connection. At empathy. At collaboration. At caring.

People with good interpersonal skills are brilliant at communicating and motivating others. In a leadership survey in 2019, communication, emotional intelligence, and people management came top as the most critical interpersonal skills for leadership – way above hard skills like strategic planning or business analysis.

This is about great communication skills, as well as managing your own ego so that you can listen – and I mean really listen, and so that you can get past your own defences to be able to manage and resolve conflict. It also means having high emotional intelligence and empathy. Empathy has been cited as a key leadership trend for the coming decade. 86% of employees say empathy is important in the workplace but less than half think their leaders show any.

One super quick tip on dialling up your interpersonal skills is to think about the balance of Task Vs Relationship.

What if your next meeting was about relationship first and only then about the task at hand? What would you ask or do differently? How would you open the meeting? What would you make sure happened before the meeting ended? Try a meeting or a whole day or an entire week focussed on relationship first and only then on task or targets. See what happens and how people respond. More motivation? More ownership? More energy? More collaboration? Become a relationship researcher and an interpersonal anthropologist. Get curious about how becoming more intentional around the ‘interpersonal’ can change the game for you and for others.

  1. Impact

Your Impact is:

  1. How you Communicate
  2. How you Show Up
  3. How you Respond
  4. How you Feel
  5. How Other People Feel About You
  6. How Other People Talk About You

At 4D we like to say that on the catwalk of leadership you are always on display. In other words, you are creating an impact in every moment of everyday. So, you might as well create the impact that you WANT to make. Being impactful also comes under the Interpersonal, but it is more than that. It is the ability to walk into a room and leave a strong impression. It is about understanding how you come across and how people experience you. It is about being memorable. It’s about choosing to have an energy that can be calming, contagious, engaging or exciting. It is not about being the loudest in the room. It is about being someone that others want to work with or follow.

A leader who consciously creates their own impact, signals to people around them that they are in charge of themselves and therefore more in charge of the goals, targets and outcomes they are heading towards.

Good actors know how to make an impact. They know how to use their body language, their energy, their voice and their expressions to engage and enthral. In leadership this isn’t about pretending. It’s about being aware of the range and options you have, to really make an impact.

The British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore recently said:

“…all governments – they’re all theatrical, they’re all theatres, they’re all actors. The great politicians understand theatre. Poor politicians have no consciousness of how they appear on stage.”

The same is true for leaders and individuals who need to command a following or motivate people to act.

Here’s a quick tip on becoming a more impactful leader. Immediately after your next 1-2-1 or team meeting, take 5 minutes and note down how you think others in the meeting may have experienced you? Start simply with the Physical and the Emotional. How present were you physically? What was your body doing? Your gestures? If online, what virtual impact did you make? How were you framed on screen and engaging with your camera? Emotionally how might they have felt after the meeting? Avoid words like – they would have ‘understood’, ‘known’ or been ‘informed’ about…This is about how they FELT after you spoke. Make some notes. At your next meeting dial your energy up by 2 or 3 points. Repeat the exercise and make some notes about your possible impact on others. What differences do you notice?

  1. Improvisation

The ability to create spontaneously without a plan or script. The act of making or doing something with whatever is available at the time, even without the necessary equipment or ideal conditions. The practice of accepting what is and building from there.

The art of improvisation is the absolute must-have skill for the 21st century flex and flow leader working in complex and rapidly changing systems.

People can be frightened of the word Improvisation – which is kind of ironic as the ability to improvise is one of the most fear-reducing skills you can have.

Good improvisers aren’t afraid of the unexpected or of uncertainty. They don’t block or reject what is offered. Good improvisors are drilled over and over in the art of accepting whatever is thrown at them, until they fear nothing from an audience. In fact, they welcome the challenge or the heckle. Good improvisers are not solo comics, they are team players, ready to give and receive in every moment and always, always, fully have the back and take care of each and every team member. Good improvisors learn to not just accept uncertainty and change, but to welcome it. They don’t fear the void because they know they have the skill to build into the unknown and create new realities and possibilities. Good improvisors know they can commit to the next immediate step with half an eye on what the outcome might look like, but are always ready to drop that future vision and reshape it based on new information in the present moment.

As I said in my 2018 TedX talk – improvisation is one of the most valuable skills I have ever learned. It is improv that helped me imagine and build a business and then co-create with the 4D team to navigate it through change, growth and a pandemic.

At 4D we have been struck by the fact that President Zelensky was often ridiculed for having a past as a comedy performer. But he wasn’t a solo comic, he was a highly skilled competitive team improvisor who rose to the absolute top of his game on the international circuit. He had spent years drilling the skills of improv and training in the art of fearless, committed response to uncertainty and to the unexpected. Arguably just the leader for such uncertain times.

Much of our education and career is spent identifying and dissecting problems. More time could be spent training to become great improvisors – the skill of feeling confident to co-create and improvise through uncertainty and scarcity towards new solutions.

Here’s a tip to help you access the wonderful world of the improvisor mindset. Move your focus from problem to possibility. Look at the problems you have right now at work. Remind yourself of all the things you, your colleagues and your team members find yourselves complaining about. Think about the constraints in the market or the internal budgets. Now, time to play. Stop focussing on what things SHOULD look like and stay with the reality of what IS. Think about this current reality as an ‘Offer.’ Now ask yourself and your team – what is the gift in this offer? How can you all build on this offer? If customers don’t want this product what version of it DO they want right now? Or HOW do they want it delivered? If things feel tough – that’s useful information, that’s your offer. So, what is your build? What is possible from here? What, in the words of a true improvisor, is your YES AND response to the situation?

  1. Inspiration

The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. The ability to make other people want to do or achieve something. Someone people admire and want to be like.

Inspiration wakes us up to new possibilities for the future. Inspiration can transform people’s belief in their own capabilities.

Inspired and inspirational individuals are not only able to tell compelling stories about the past, but are able to create exciting stories and visions for the future. These people are more open to new experiences and brilliant at communicating possibility. Inspiring leaders can take people from apathy to possibility to action. They are less competitive and don’t get bogged down with the need to win. They are intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically motivated, meaning the very vision or creative goal itself is enough to motivate and inspire without the need for extra money or rewards. Inspired people feel more creative and actually do become more creative over time. Inspired leaders spend more time in the flow of work and less time blocked or worried. Inspired individuals tend to set more inspiring goals and go on to successfully attain them, taking others with them.

In a time when the global record has got stuck on the track of ‘rapid change, a VUCA world, uncertainty, doom and gloom’ – we need inspirational leaders now more than ever. And being an inspiring leader doesn’t mean having to be a world-famous author or president. It means being inspiring at your next team meeting or in your next conversation. Helping people share a vision for the future rather than staying stuck in fear, uncertainty and the unknown.

In a report in the early days of WW2 it was noted that people in the UK were experiencing ‘negative apathy.’ As opposed to positive apathy. Positive apathy means having a clear sense of what you feel apathetic about, a vision of the future or new idea that demotivates or de-energises you. Negative apathy however is when you are de-energised and demotivated because you DON’T have a vision or idea about where you might be headed. In WW2 Churchill helped turn this around with his inspiring words and vision.

We risk the same negative apathy today. We humans need more than a story of fear or a money target, we need a compelling vision that unites us, that we can share and drive towards with hope and determination. Even if that vision changes along the way – we need inspiring leaders to paint a picture of a possible future.

In your next presentation or meeting or when a colleague is worried about where a project or the business is headed – take a moment to inspire them using the 3xE Model. Paint a picture of what the future could look like – short or long term – in this order:

Emotion – first give them the emotion you want the future to feel like. Tell them how exciting or vibrant this future will be.

Experience – next paint the picture of what it will be like in this future, how the team or the business will feel and what they will be doing, how things will have changed, what will be better, the opportunities and experiences that will be available

Expectations – finally tell them what they can do right now to help or to take a step towards this future, what needs to happen to get there and what is their part in that journey.

The Age of Soft Skills is here and it’s exciting. Imagine a time when there’s no such thing as another boring presentation or meeting? When the priority at work is to engage and inspire each other. When our time is respected, and our attention is valued so much that we place relationship, communication and connection above information overload and three-hour updates. A time when we don’t get lost in the downward spiral of negative narratives of uncertainty but are able to spiral each other up into visions of possibility. When we don’t just download information but uplift with inspiration.

So, remember, your next presentation or meeting isn’t prepared just because you have a script, a slide deck or an agenda. That is only stage 1. Your real work as a leader is to practice bringing that message to life physically and emotionally with intention, colour, story and passion.

We love what we do at 4D. We are passionate about helping you become the very best leaders, teams and communicators you can be. We say – bring on The Age of Soft Skills. It will be so positive – for all of us. And it does need to be for all of us. The age of soft skills needs to be inclusive. So, excuse the quick – and yet super important – plug and promote…

That is why at 4D, in addition to our online and in-person training and coaching, we have created an engaging, energising, super accessible and affordable digital platform – 4DOnDemand – so that EVERYONE can dial up their own super soft skills. With interactive video courses on ImpactPresentation Skills, Storytelling, Personal Brand, Virtual & Hybrid Working, and WellBeing, and with more coming – we want to play our part in helping everyone step into this new exciting future, inspiring with impact, communicating with confidence, connecting with care and ready for success.

For more information about individual, team and company-wide programs do get in touch. We are here to help.