Ask anyone. The hardest thing we ever do is relate to other people, especially as leaders in our organizations or communities, but also in our personal relationships. Ask anyone what the most difficult component of their job is: relationships, interpersonal dynamics, people. Ask project managers why most projects fail: inadequate communication and team members moving in different directions or having differing priorities. Ask teams their greatest challenge: getting work done – because of interpersonal dynamics that get in the way. Because people challenges interfere in getting the job done, slowing us down.
Empathy, leadership, communication, sociability, ability to laugh, optimism, common sense, responsibility, integrity and motivation are some of the skills identified as soft. Somehow soft has become interchangeable with expendable so when budgets become tight the first thing to go is soft skills.
Soft skills are not about being nicey nice. They are about creating the conditions for relationships to grow, enabling individuals and teams to engage in difficult and necessary conversations, not so we can all live in some kind of utopia but in service of getting work done, achieving results, having impact, shifting systems, seeing possibility, opening to emergence. We do our best work with people we like, people we care about and people we love. We have our greatest resilience in systems that care. We reach our highest potential in supportive environments that encourage growth. We take our greatest risks when we know someone will help us up and dust us off when we fall so we can all be ready for what’s next.
There is nothing soft about soft skills. They require discipline, practice and self awareness. They require risk and letting go of control, trusting others to step up and in when we create the space for them to do so and they require discernment about what is the right amount of leadership, coaching and support required to allow teams and individuals the highest possibility of growth and contribution.
One of the reasons I gravitate to the Art of Hosting Body of Knowledge is because of the emphasis on creating the field or conditions from which wise action, results and impact will flow, flowing out of a well tended relational field.
We will not shift the shape of the world only through projects. We will shift it by paying attention to the quality of the relational field and our relationships. The greater the quality of the relational field, the greater the power to engage in actions with such purposefulness that the shape of the world cannot help but shift.