“Your ‘IQ’ can help with the numbers, but you need ‘EQ’ to get the best out of people…” Unknown

COVID-19 clearly confirmed that the soft stuff is really the hard stuff. 

The “soft” includes how people think and behave; the organisation’s human dynamics; the extent to which people experience a safe, supportive environment where there is respect, empathy, and compassion; furthermore, the degree of internal capacity and skills for strategic and leveraged thinking, and whether leaders are finding the balance between the art and science of leadership and also soft skills.

Importance of Soft Skills

Simply put, employees are fueled by soft things like organisational culture, teachable moments, effective collaboration, ability to experience change, and personal learning. Not having motivated employees creates friction with hard things like consumer satisfaction, crisis frequency, retention of staff, cost of performance, cost of service, share-holder value, and profit.

Prior to COVID-19 study after study made the case for paying attention to ‘soft skills. According to a survey by Adeco Staffing USA, 45 percent of executives said a lack of soft skills was the biggest proficiency gap they saw in the U.S. workforce.” 1 Research from the Hay Group revealed that organisations who incorporate a range of soft talents into their leadership approach can increase their team’s performance by as much as 30 percent. “Without soft skill development organisations can and will encounter more internal conflicts,”2  all of this impacts reputation, brand and profitability. Deloitte’s 2015 Report of Global Human Capital Trends suggests, “Softer’ areas, such as culture and engagement, leadership, and development, have become urgent priorities.”

Today is about managing the things that management can count. The future will be about managing the things you can’t count or at least you didn’t think you could. I hope there will be a sudden awakening of the soft side by realising the value of stuff of culture, purpose, collaboration, and human relationship capital. I hope all the things that have been traditionally labelled, as the intangibles will become important and visible. It is easy to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and manipulate numbers. It is hard to understand what you do not know, do not control, and do not want to learn from. The awakening of the soft issues represents the need to shift how we manage and lead. 

Soft Skills Tested

Post COVID-19 your organisation’s “soft skills” ability and intelligence will be tested on a regular basis. When there are failures, pressures from the outside, or employee problems, it will be easy to retreat to traditional ‘hard skilled’ management processes and structures with an illusion of control from the top. The real test for leaders is to discover how much they really trust their employees and honor their voices. Trust is hard because it requires a leader to be present, vulnerable, and connected to another human being. 

The intangible dimension, the generative domain of human action and relationships is moving from the periphery to the center stage. This shift becomes evident when one understands the informal social networks essential to all work, the role of mental models, and the emerging patterns of interdependence among complex and highly distributed (or dispersed) processes of innovation.  Accordingly, measures that used to account for the hard variables are increasingly seen as abstract and secondary, while soft variables such as intentions, interpretations, and relationships are increasingly considered part of the more concrete and primary sphere of value creation.  Hence, the core of what is considered real has moved from the more tangible to the more intangible variables of social behavior and managerial action. In order to do well, leaders will have to learn to pay attention to a different set of variables, the variables that used to be referred to as “soft,” such as intentions, interpretations and identity.

Increasingly, measures used to account for hard variables are viewed as abstract and secondary, while soft variables such as intentions, interpretations, and relationships are considered part of the primary sphere of customer-experience value creation. Leaders will have to learn to pay attention to a different set of variables—the variables referred to as ‘soft’ relationship skills.

 At the core of all this “soft stuff” is the discipline of learning organisations. Learning organisations invest in the learning & growth of their people; so that they have the internal capacity to achieve their organisation’s vision with focused and well executed strategies that leverage resources and mobilise people to achieve the results required. 

 The awakening of the soft issues represents the need to shift how we manage and lead. It’s about a shift from managing and leading others to managing and leading self with others. For many this is really hard!

Personal Reflections

  •  Reflecting on your personal COVID-19 learning, what stage of “soft skill” versus “hard skill” learning are you at?
  • How would you rate the level of psychological safety in your organisation?
  •  Where do you want to be? What’s stopping you?
  •  Do you spend enough time talking about and measuring the soft side of your business: relationship patterns; teachable moments; the integrity between staff, and between staff and customers?

Adaptation of material from the book “HUMANIZING LEADERSHIP” by Hugh MacLeod, FriesenPress, 2019.



  1.  Adeco Staffing Study, on USA Workforce Skills, 2008
  2. Hay Group Report on Soft Skills, 2014
  3. Deloitte Report on Global Human Capital Trends, 2015.