Orrin Woodward on LIFE & Leadership

Inc Magazine Top 20 Leader shares his personal, professional, and financial secrets.

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    Former Guinness World Record Holder for largest book signing ever, Orrin Woodward is a NY Times bestselling author of And Justice For All along with RESOLVED & coauthor of LeaderShift and Launching a Leadership Revolution. His books have sold over one million copies in the financial, leadership and liberty fields. RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions For LIFE made the Top 100 All-Time Best Leadership Books and the 13 Resolutions are the framework for the top selling Mental Fitness Challenge personal development program.

    Orrin made the Top 20 Inc. Magazine Leadership list & has co-founded two multi-million dollar leadership companies. Currently, he serves as the Chairman of the Board of the LIFE. He has a B.S. degree from GMI-EMI (now Kettering University) in manufacturing systems engineering. He holds four U.S. patents, and won an exclusive National Technical Benchmarking Award.

    This blog is an Alltop selection and ranked in HR's Top 100 Blogs for Management & Leadership.

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Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills

Posted by Orrin Woodward on November 12, 2014

I wanted to share on my blog an article I wrote for LinkedIn on Soft Skills and Hard Skills. LIFE Leadership is in the sweet spot for business and personal development with its emphasis on Soft Skill growth. Soft Skills could be compared to Emotional Quotient while Hard Skills could be compared to Intelligence Quotient. Both are important but the picture of the iceberg below depicts their relative contribution. A huge thank you to CEO Chris Brady, the field leaders, and our many customers for your support.


Orrin Woodward

imagesThere is a leadership revolution brewing in America today. Companies have discovered that the mastery of technical skills alone does not make an employee a leader. In addition to the technical “hard skills,” a leader must also master the relational “soft skills” in order to advance personally and professionally.

While technical hard skills are typically learned during one’s formal education and supplemented with on-the-job training, soft skills, in contrast, are rarely taught in school or at work. Therefore, a potential leader must take personal responsibility for learning and applying the relational soft skills in his daily interactions with others. However, to do this properly, one must first understand the difference between a hard skill and a soft skill.

Perhaps the simplest method for differentiating between the two types of skills is to consider hard skills as science and soft skills as art. Whereas science focuses on objective numerical outcomes that can be measured, art focuses on subjective aesthetic outcomes that must be experienced. Hard skills (like typing speed, IQ level, or computer programming skills) can be measured objectively, while soft skills (like teamwork, patience, and persistence) can only be measured subjectively.

Soft skills produce impressive objective results because they are absolutely essential for great leadership. For instance, just because one cannot scientifically measure a leader’s influence, that does not mean it isn’t real or valuable to the company. It simply means that teammates experience the art of a leader’s soft skills despite the fact that those skills are not quantifiable. Of course leaders must have science-side competence (objective skills), but the difference maker is their art-side influence (subjective skills).

The second difference between hard and soft skills is in their scope of use. While hard skills are job-dependent techniques that can change with time and new assignments, soft skills are people-dependent and thus practically unchanging because they are based on timeless principles. When a person studies the leadership lessons from ancient Greece, Rome, and Jerusalem, he is struck by how soft skills of yesterday worked the same as they do today. That is to say, the art-side soft skills are timeless and relevant regardless of the profession one chooses, so long as it involves working with other people.

The third difference between the two skill sets is in how those skills are taught to others. Leaders can develop soft skills and even master them, but this doesn’t make it any easier to teach them to others. Unlike hard skills mastery, which can be taught in classrooms through memorization of rules and formulas, soft skills mastery must be learned in real-life experiences. In other words, hard skills can be learned in a classroom through instruction of the mind, but soft skills must be learned in life through instruction of the heart. Leadership mastery is rare because it is an art taught mostly through experience. It demands from leaders the ability to make decisions while juggling numerous initiatives, resources, and people to produce profitable results that honor the company and its people—not an easy assignment by any means and even more difficult to pass along to others.

Interestingly, today’s technological scientific age has not reduced the importance of soft skills but has, if anything, increased it. Nearly every company has impressive technology and brains, but only those with leadership apply the soft skills to adapt quickly. MIT Professor Peter Senge once wrote, “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” Companies learn faster when leaders model and message soft skill development within their teams. The result is that more employees feel connected to the company, its leaders, and its vision, which means the organization will learn and change faster.

Not surprisingly, modern statistical research confirms the importance of soft skills. Google, in a study codenamed “Project Oxygen,” data-mined every performance review, feedback survey, and nomination for top-manager awards within the company. Google identified the eight most important skills for effective leadership and discovered that technical expertise ranked dead last out of the eight. Historically, Google’s management strategy was simple: leave the programmers alone, and when they needed help, they could reach out to their bosses, who were promoted based upon their mastery of technical skills. However, according to Laszlo Bock, Google’s Vice President of “Human Operations,” Project Oxygen changed their mindset. “In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.”

Google’s findings are not really new but merely confirm statistically what was previously known intuitively, namely, that everything rises and falls on leadership. In 1936, Dale Carnegie described what Google’s study revealed when he wrote, “. . . 15 percent of one’s financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering—to personality and the ability to lead people.”

To be sure, hard skills are vital for professional competence, but if a person desires to climb within his profession, he must not neglect his leadership soft skills. For true leaders combine the science-side hard skills and the art-side soft skills to build leadership cultures of trust and influence. Simply put, leadership is the only sustainable competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.

15 Responses to “Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills”

  1. Developing soft skills has made such a difference in my life. LIFE Leadership has been able to help me grow in this area further than anything else. I grew up thinking that people with these types of skills were just born with them, and I was not. So, I focused a lot at mastering hard skills of tasks. Later, I realized how more important it was to master the art of the soft skills than it was the science of the hard skills. Thankfully, I also finally realized I could learn these skills, even though I wasn’t “born” with them. Thank you Orrin Woodward, and thank you LIFE Leadership!

  2. Chad Waters said

    Hi Orrin!

    Great blog! Love it!
    Thx again for more perspective.

    God Bless

  3. Most organizations, especially government organizations, need more emphasis on soft skills if they’re to be successful facing the challenges of this century.

  4. The first step is recognizing that BOTH skills are needed.

    • Orrin Woodward said

      Yup, that’s why I like the iceberg analogy since it does have part above the water (hard skills) and even more below (soft skills). thanks, Orrin

  5. Orrin,
    This is brilliant. Thanks so much. I was trying to think of a way to share with a friend tomorrow why Life Leadership corporate education is so much more powerful than anything else out there, Covey’s, and other stuff is 500 times more, and not near as effective! Excited to help them see it.

  6. Scott Staley said

    Great blog! I love the detailed walk through of hard vs soft skills.

  7. Don Schultz, Team VIP Phalanx said

    Great article Orrin.

    Both sets of skills are needed and as we exemplify them we will have as John Maxwell says, “the Law of Attraction”. We are drawn to people who interact with the people around them in a plesant manner and are competant in their field of work. They are self-confident without being cocky and with a sense of humility.

    Marshall Goldsmiths “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” is a good book dealing with the expansion of who we are in both hard and soft skills.

  8. Soft Skills vs Hard Skills. Soft ware Vs Hard ware. Soft Power Vs Hard Power. David Vs Goliath. Microsoft Vs IBM.

  9. Allen Morris said

    LIFE really helps you to better your self and others man I love this/my business it’s awsome

  10. Jim Wilson said

    I am going to use this as apart of follow up on LLRC contacts.
    Jim Wilson

  11. Joel said

    Dear Orrin and Life Co-Founders.

    I cannot thank you enough for what you do. I am a proud member of this community. And I am even a prouder member of this MOVEMENT. The free world needs to be saved, and it is up to us to make that happen.

    I read this blog on the day it was posted. The following day, 13NOV14, I had a job interview for the position of Continuous Improvement Leader at a manufacturing plant half-an-hour closer from home.

    (Brief background: I have been in my current job for 7 years. I am happy here. 3 weeks ago I got a call from a corporate recruiter out of the blue. Apparently I was referred to him by a coworker, who remains anonymous. I was not really looking for a new job. But because my loyalty is to my family before the corporate world, I thought that if there was something ‘better’ out there, then I should at least be open-minded enough to check it out.)

    Back to my story. It was an all-day interview. I interviewed with all the levels of management at that plant. They would ask me technical questions (I am an engineer as well, like you and Chris – lol), and I would answer with a technical response. But I would also include the importance of ‘soft-skills’ in addition to talking about lean manufacturing, six sigma, value stream mapping, etc… I would always give them feedback on the importance of leadership.

    Apparently, they have been looking to fill this position for MONTHS. They had interviewed dozens of other applicants. On that same day, Thursday night, after my interview, it was UNANIMOUS. Every single one of them picked me. I was flattered. They made an offer with a higher base pay than what I make now.

    The extra money I will make I plan to put into the LIFE business because my goal is to buy back my time and leave the corporate world so I could fulfill my purpose.

    Thank you so much! I, of course, give acknowledgement to God for His Blessings, but I also give credit to Life Leadership. The recruiter told me that they all picked me because of the ‘soft skills’ I have.

    God Bless! Let’s go to a million!!

  12. Norman Bacheldor said

    This is a fantastic article about hard skills vs soft skills and the relative importance of each. There were actually numerous layers within this article including the advantage of a learning organization, and the value of leadership. I am currently engaged in a re-tooling process of the soft skills within a company for which I am the president. The company is in the hospitality industry, so we generally are pretty good interacting with people, but we definitely can be better. I believe the keys to our sought after improvements are captured in your article.

    Thank you,
    Norman Bacheldor

  13. Ralph said

    Spot On Orrin!!

    I have been saying the same thing to those who work for me but the way you illustrated your point makes so much more sense. Thank you for sharing this!

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