Are “hard” skills the only type of useful skills?

Are “hard” skills the only type of useful skills?

Many organizations provide individual contributors with technical or hard skills training but put off doing leadership or soft skills training until individuals are promoted into management.

When it comes to those sitting on the lower levels of the corporate ladder, there are many controversial views of the value of developing “soft” skills for the “worker bees”.

Analysis from Zenger Folkman verifies that while individual contributors with hard skills are more valued than those with soft skills, the combination of both soft and hard skills plays a critical role in improving the performance rankings and overall effectiveness of an individual contributor.

For this research, hard skills were defined as:

  • technical expertise
  • problem-solving ability
  • drive for results
  • and taking the initiative


Soft skills were defined as:

  • ability to communicate
  • relationship building
  • coaching and supporting others
  • development of colleagues
  • and collaboration and teamwork


In this analysis, we looked at the individual manager’s performance ranking on productivity and effort. The chances of an individual contributor in the top quartile (only on soft skills) being given the highest performance rank on both productivity and effort were only 1.3%. Comparatively, 7.1% of those in the top quartile for their hard skills, were assessed by their managers and given the highest performance ranking for their productivity and effort.


Individual Contributors Leaders-Hard versus Soft Skills



The results below show the overall effectiveness ratings for leaders who were in each of the above groups. As the graph demonstrates, hard skills are more highly valued for individual contributors than soft skills.

There is a significant difference between individual contributors in those two groups (t-value 3.817, Sig. = 0.000). The more meaningful and much more substantial difference is between those who were in the top 25% on both skills and either of the other groups (t-value 34.53, Sig. 0.000 and t-value 33.62, Sig. 0.000.) These leaders were rated on average in the top 10%.

However, when individual contributors were highly skilled at both, 91.6% of those individuals were given the top performance rating.


Leadership Research- Top Performance Ranking on Productivity and Effort



The above study demonstrates that individual contributors with hard and soft skills are rated as significantly more effective and are substantially more likely to receive high-performance evaluations.

If you are an individual contributor, remember that you can influence and lead those around you. Don’t brush off the soft skills that will advance your career.


Leadership is the ability to influence others, at times, the ability to influence their peers and manager. Individual contributors can be substantially more useful when they possess better interpersonal and leadership skills.

Providing individual contributors with soft skill training early on in their careers provides each person with time, experience, and opportunities to strengthen those soft skills. When they are put into a management position, their level of effectiveness is much higher.

Young leaders are being promoted to mid and senior-level positions quite often. But do they have the necessary skills and training to be great leaders?

Soft skills are developed and improved over time.


Employees in organizations where development opportunities are more plentiful have higher engagement, lower turnover, and higher productivity.

Read on research article here by Jack Zenger that even if an individual contributor does not move into a management position, their performance is improved by soft skill development.

Image credit: Aevo 

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Lessons from Pixar’s Soul

“What makes you, YOU?”

After watching Pixar’s latest animation movie “Soul” I was captivated by all that goes into what makes a person unique. One’s personality, interests, passion, discovering that spark to life. Before reading on, I must warn you that there are spoilers ahead. If you have not seen the film, it’s best to catch the trailer to get an idea of what we’re about to explore.

The movie follows a Mr Joe Gardner, our main protagonist who navigates through life in hopes for a big break and to achieve his dream as a successful jazz pianist. A drastic turn of events lands him with an unborn soul in “the great before”. Before each soul gets their “earth pass” they each require finding their spark which gives them their personalities, interests and quirks. For some it’s music, for some it’s food, for others, archery, it could be anything!

That’s when I went into existential mode – What is it that gives my life that.. spark?

“Find the spark.”

I translated that into finding my passion. Referencing an assessment I did recently (Behavioural Attitudes Index) I it helped me unravel six dimensions of hidden motivations: I-SPEAK (inner awareness, spirituality/faith, power/political, economical, artistic, knowledge). Considering I always identified myself as someone creative, I expected my highest score to be in the “artistic” realm.

Instead.. “Wendy’s primary style is power/political” came up and I was surprised. Reading on, while I recognised that I have many interests such as music, singing, content creating, it struck me that it was the desire to influence others through my creative work that gave my life meaning!

“Life is full of possibilities. You just need to know where to look.”

While my life was filled with the vibrancy of the creative work I do, I truly only realised this spark/passion quite recently. I found myself thinking “How can I influence someone positively through the content I make?” “How am I displaying my values through my videos”. This eventually lead me to discover my purpose and find meaning in the work I do.

Perhaps the question you can ask yourself, where are you looking?

We are in the business of helping people discover themselves, how about we work together to discover that “spark”? 

We got to love how Pixar takes a complicated concept and makes it so easy to relate to and understand. Give it a watch and let me know what you think!

Article Contributed by Wendy, Programme Consultant at Lifeskills Institute 

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