A Hard Look at Soft Skills.
Updated: Jun 21, 2021
New York City, New York.
From around the room they gave their name, title and company. A Board Room. The speaker. The tent cards. The fruit bowl perched on the continental breakfast buffet.
In countless meeting rooms across the globe, it’s a familiar scene. This gathering of professionals around the hollow square, represented about a trillion dollars in collective worth. They were there for a reason.
You may wonder. Are these premier organizations? Do they have access to the best business practice intel, technology and consultants on the planet? From outside looking in, they have it all. As a business owner reading the MetroWest Daily News, what do you have in common with these industry titans? More than you think.
One by one they spoke. Breakfast turned to lunch and then to dinner. It was clear, they face the same challenge. Does industry segment matter? Is company size a factor? What about annual revenues, Paula, do they matter? Industry. Company size. Annual revenues. None of it matters.
So, what is this mysterious challenge these organizations face?
The lack of the non-technical personality driven traits, in the workplace. I’m talking about soft skills.
How can that possibly be? These organizations unequivocally value their teams just like you do. The annual spend is $14 billion dollars on workplace training. Although does the curriculum focus on; rapport building, anticipatory thought, “on your feet thinking,” written and verbal communication skills, developing imagination, personal pride, initiative and self-reliance?
Sadly, no. Four or forty-five thousand employees, all size companies face this challenge.
My mind wandered from the New York Board Room to a Boston Bistro to a client conversation. This CEO, let’s call him Carmen, has a thirty-person service firm, “Paula, I need a strong team so I can focus on the business and its growth. Without that, there is no payroll. Training programs don’t cut it. They rah-rah the staff, we’re good for three weeks. Then it’s back to square one.”
From New York to Boston and back, it’s the same conversation. Of course, in the Fortune 50, 500 and 1000s there are ten levels deep, an SVP, a Manager, a CHRO, Talent Manager and a flotilla of personnel between the CEO and the employee on the line. Yet the challenge echoes across industry, company size and revenue. Employees. Performance. Personalities.
What comes first, personality or performance?
Before I answer, my hardcoding is building successful businesses and igniting personal potential. I use those gifts to help owners and their businesses, thrive. The answer is obvious to which came first personality or performance. Sanitation engineer or CEO, you hatched your personality long before ever having a job. Palm up. High five.
My take? Personal development and soft skills are not perfected in a one-off seminar. “I lost eleven pounds by dieting one day,” said no one. Ever. Neither approach works. Professional or personal, a wise corporate trainer or a psychiatrist will say, development is an evolution and an ongoing process. Fortunately, there are books on the topic like Soft Skills. Hard Returns. by Bob Musial (yes, a distant cousin to baseball great, Stan the Man Musial). Time bankrupt? Musial has your back. Check out the contents. Pick your issue. Click. Find real world solutions with practical application. Done. Bingo. Bango. You’ll refer to this gem a lot. Because why? Soft skills and personal development are a lifestyle, not a one-off seminar.
Back to Boston.
Carmen, picture your company if every team member had a commitment to personal development and had superior soft skills? Imagine when every employee takes a mundane task and makes it magnificent? Instead of dumping a problem in your lap, what if they came to you after they’d researched three possible solutions, gave their recommendation and the reasons why they chose it? What if they delivered that monthly report before you have to ask for it?
The energy of personal pride is transformative. Personal development with implementation in a professional environment is to a business what oxygen is to your lungs.
When a leader and an employee operates from his or her personal best, they can’t be anything but phenomenal. It’s a triple win. One for the individual. One for the company. And one for the customer. The residual effects of that collective company culture, is the magic of success.
From the New York Board Room to the Boston Bistro to Bob Musial’s Soft Skills. Hard Returns., and everywhere in between, personal mastery is an action sport worthy of the investment. With it, you can go anywhere in the world.
Paula M. Parker (C) 2019
Originally published in