In the 2016 AFL Grand Final, a triumphant Western Bulldogs overcame the Sydney Swans to win their first grand final in 62 years. It was a moment of celebration and any footy fan who wasn’t a Sydney-sider was cheering on the red, white and blue. There was just one thing getting in the way of the fairytale. The Bulldogs favourite son and fearless leader, Bob Murphy, was watching from the sidelines.
Bob Murphy retired at the end of last year. He wasn’t the best footballer in the AFL, nor was he the best at the Bulldogs, but it’s fair to say that he was up there with the absolute crowd favourites.What was it that everyone loved and admired about Bob?
He’s quite often sited as the “heart and soul” of the club. And for good reason. It’s his persona that really sets him apart. His fierce competitiveness coupled with his kindness and empathy. The honesty and integrity in the way he communicates with the media and footballers alike. It’s his team work, his win/win nature and his leadership not only on the field but off too. These are the things that people generally admire most about Bob Murphy, his “soft skills.”
These sorts of qualities, while referred to as “soft skills” are generally traits that define ones character. They’re the traits that make leaders great and teams successful. They’re much harder to define or evaluate than hard skills and as a result they’ve all been grouped together by a name that hardly does them justice. It’s a name that conjures up images of all things pink and fluffy and lacking in both physical and mental strength.
In fact, the term “soft skills” really is an insult to the skills that are so integral to our leaders and our workplaces and it really is about time we change our language.
Education is a funny thing. At schools and universities, we typically measure the success of students on the results of exams, assignments, presentations and maybe a little group work too. At the end of the semester, students get a report card which collates these results into a final grade and there somewhere in the report you might find a paragraph highlighting their ability to interact with others, demonstrate leadership qualities or support for their fellow students.
Rarely is this measured and quite often it contributes nothing to the students overall grade.
By the time we leave the education system, we’ve got a pretty good idea that these skills are much less important than the specialist skills we’ve acquired. The truth is that it’s completely wrong. These skills form the backbone of our great leaders and our most successful teams.
When Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner were researching for their book The Leadership Challenge, their respondents told them that they want leaders who are honest, leaders who are forward thinking and who have great vision, they want leaders who inspire and importantly they said that they want leaders who are competent as leaders. Note the as leaders. You can be the best accountant in the world but it’s not going to make you a great CFO.
Knowing how to code doesn’t mean you will automatically inspire the next big start up and having a Masters in Psychology doesn’t mean you’ll be great in an HR leadership position, it just doesn’t work that way.
No, in order to achieve real success in any of these roles you need to be an inspiring communicator, show honesty, integrity and a high degree of emotional intelligence, have strong interpersonal skills and coach your team to success.
As we progress full speed into the digital revolution, we need these skills more than ever.
It’s time that our education systems prioritise the development of character skills, of essential skills, of foundational skills, or fundamental skills. However you want to define them, they’re an essential part of the modern workplace and it’s time we stop calling them f*cking soft skills.
Until next time,
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