This past week I got angry based on a short article from the Harvard Business Review. Each morning I receive an article from HBR that contains some usually relevant leadership wisdom. It is called “The Management Tip of the Day.” I highly recommend it to other leaders – it is short, it is free and it is thought-provoking.

One day this week the title was “You Can Develop Your Soft Skills – Even When You Work from Home.” The author was Rebecca Knight. In this age of hybrid work, soft skills like empathy and creativity are more important than ever, she said, but, she asked, how can you develop those soft skills when you are on Zoom or Slack all day? Rebecca offered several suggestions:

-Establish shared values and norms in one-on-one conversations

-Make colleagues feel seen and heard, showing genuine curiosity in them and using your listening skills

-Proactively seek feedback from your team and manager through one-on-one check-ins or after-meeting reviews

-Seek out some in-person time when possible, even if you work remotely

Sounds good, right? Solid tips from Rebecca. So why was I angry? At HBR? At Rebecca?

I will admit that I was not really upset with HBR or with Rebecca Knight. However, I will share a secret with all of you newsletter subscribers. This particular HBR “Management Tip of the Day” brought one of my all-time leadership pet peeves to the surface.

I had not thought about this pet peeve in quite a while, even though I write this weekly newsletter and hold leadership positions with a number of non-profit organizations and agencies. Can you guess what my pet peeve is?

Why do we call critical leadership prerequisites like empathy and active listening SOFT SKILLS? The attributes that are typically referred to as soft skills are some of the most essential elements of excellent leadership. I believe that calling them soft skills reduces their importance in the eyes of some leaders, managers and department heads. Ironically, what people term soft skills can separate good leaders from outstanding leaders.
What e skills are we taking about:





-Oral communication






-Giving feedback




-Cultivating self-confidence

-Organizational acumen

-Inspiring others


-Conflict resolution

-Willingness to learn

-Strategic planning

-Willingness to admit mistakes and apologize sincerely

-Ability to serve as a constant role model

-Maintaining a sense of humor

-Creating a sustainable culture

You get it. These are such important leadership abilities. They can make a huge difference for you and your teammates. And guess what?

These “soft skills” are HARD to learn and practice, hard to maintain on a daily basis, hard to teach to younger colleagues.

So as you continue on your own leadership journey, I ask you to strive to refrain from using the words “soft skills” to describe these important elements of the leadership handbook.

Teach them.

Role model them.

Talk about them.

Thank you for allowing me to engage in this little rant today. Make it a good week.

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