Why You Need To Improve Your Work Life Skills

By Liz Guthridge | Sep 24, 2020
Liz Guthridge | ACHNET

Did you know that many CEOs now rank soft skills as more important than technical skills, even as their companies focus more on artificial intelligence (AI) and the digital business environment?

In just two years, executives have done a 180-degree turnabout on what they view as the most necessary skills to execute their business strategies, according to IBM’s fall 2019 report "The Enterprise Guide to Closing the Skills Gap."

For the last IBM survey, the top two skills were “technical core capabilities for STEM” and “basic computer and software/application skills.” Now, the top five skills are all “behavioral skills,” as the IBM report also calls soft skills, including “willingness to be flexible, agile, and adaptable to change,” “time management skills and ability to prioritize,” “ability to work effectively in team environments,” “ability to communicate effectively in business context,” and “analytic skills and business acumen.”

Based on surveys and interviews with more than 5,670 global executives in 48 countries, IBM found another striking result: About 120 million professionals may need retraining. They’re missing key skills — these top five highly developed life skills and others that humans do to fully participate in everyday life.

Yet, just because we humans do these skills doesn’t mean we do them well — or even perform them regularly.

Could one of the problems be that soft skills — the traditional name for these types of skills — seem dull, uninspiring and limiting, especially when compared with tech?

For example, consider these three big problems with the name “soft skills.”

• “Soft” implies not forceful or strong. Soft can be weak, especially when compared to hard technical topics, which also can be new and innovative.

• Historically, soft skills are equated with “people skills” and communication ability. While valuable, you now need broader capabilities to succeed in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. For example, it helps to be self-aware, able to manage yourself, able to think for yourself (creative, strategic and analytic), listen well, be inclusive, be empathetic, be persuasive and influential, build relationships, and so on.

• Many interpret soft skills as a list of subjects to learn and apply, such as giving effective presentations using PowerPoint, giving feedback and improving executive presence. Once you check off the boxes, you like to think you’re “one and done.” There’s no need to recertify as you do with other professional licenses and certificates.

Yet, these perceptions about soft skills also represent a difference from reality. While they’re all actions we humans do, these actions require us to be highly adaptable, flexible and customized in how we perform.

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