Manage Your Boss with Hard Skills; Lead Your Boss with Soft Skills

Soft skills emphasize how you communicate, while hard skills emphasize what you communicate.

“You can give lifetime employability by training people, by making them adaptable, making them mobile to go other places to do other things. But you can’t guarantee lifetime employment.”—Jack Welch

Soft skills are different from hard skills. It is a new discipline catching up globally as companies realized its importance to improve interpersonal relations to enhance bottom lines. The term, “soft skills,” was referred to by different names in the past, and often is mistaken for emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, communication skills, and behavioral skills. In fact, soft skills are all about your personality, attitude, and behavior. Soft skills are the way you put across things in a positive, polite, pleasing, and polished manner. They are different from hard skills, which are your technical skills and domain competence. Hard skills are mostly tangible and can be seen, while soft skills are largely intangible and can be felt. Hard skills are technical skills and mostly are phrased using nouns, while soft skills are people skills and mostly are phrased using verbs. A judicious blend of both soft and hard skills is essential to fast-track your career. Here are some differences between soft and hard skills with examples and illustrations.

Soft vs. Hard Skills

If you instruct a smoker, “Don’t smoke,” it is known as hard skills. Instead, if you tell a smoker,  “Thanks for not smoking,” it is known as soft skills. If you call it a generation gap, it is known as hard skills. In contrast, if you call it generational differences, it is known as soft skills. If you call them problems, that’s hard skills, but if you call them challenges, it’s soft skills. If you call them weaknesses, it is known as hard skills; if you call them as concerns, it is known as soft skills. Precisely, soft skills emphasize how you communicate, while hard skills emphasize what you communicate.

According to Anthony Robbins, there is a famous story told about Tom Watson, the founder of IBM. One of his subordinates had made a terrible mistake that had cost the company $10 million. He was called into Watson’s office and said, “I suppose you want my resignation.”

Watson looked at him and said, “Are you kidding? We just spent $10 million educating you.”

It is easy to measure hard skills, while it is hard to measure soft skills. It is easy to teach hard skills, while it is hard to teach soft skills. Usually, teachers teach hard skills, while trainers train soft skills. Since soft skills are behavioral skills, it requires extra efforts on the part of trainers to use various tools and techniques, including interaction, role-plays, active participation, and experiential learning to bring out the desired behavioral changes among participants.

Significance of Soft Skills

Remember, words are magical. If you know how to articulate them effectively, politely, and pleasingly, you can execute your tasks effectively. You can come out with flying colors regardless of the industry and sector you are in. You can avoid ill will among the people. With soft skills, you can easily manage organizational politics and present things in a positive perspective by changing your behavior as per the situation. You can develop emotional intelligence quotient and assertiveness, which is an ingredient of soft skills. You can gel effectively with your superiors, peers, and subordinates in the workplace. You can get along with various personalities at the workplace. You can manage conflicts effectively. You can be in the good books of others with your corporate etiquette and with your pleasing, polite, and polished communication. You can not only achieve corporate survival but also fast-track your career. Finally, you can achieve your productivity and performance, which leads to organizational excellence and effectiveness. With hard skills, you can manage your boss; and with soft skills, you can lead your boss. Succinctly, you can survive in your personal, professional, and social life with the support of soft skills.

Integrate Hard and Soft Skills

You can present your hard skills in your resume, while you can demonstrate your soft skills during your employment interview. Employees need three skills—job-related skills, transferable skills, and self-management skills—to grow in their career. Hard skills can be compared with job-related skills, while soft skills are compared to transferable skills in that they are useful irrespective of your industry and sector. You may not need your hard skills over a period of time, but you need soft skills throughout your career. In fact, you need them more once you reach senior positions. Hence, both your soft and hard skills play a crucial role in fast-tracking your career success.

To conclude, your hard skills get you employment, while your soft skills get you employability. Your hard skills help you acquire employment, while your soft skills help you retain your longevity in employment. As such, you must strive to understand the subtle difference between them, and integrate and apply them proportionately and effectively to excel as a successful professional and leader.

Professor M.S.Rao is an international leadership guru and leadership educator, executive coach, speaker, and consultant. He has 33 years of experience and is the author of 30 books including 21 Success Sutras for Leaders ( that was selected as the Top 10 Leadership Books of the Year – 2013 by San Diego University. His vision is to build 1 million students as global leaders by 2030. He has been honored as an upcoming International Leadership Guru by Leadership Gurus International URL: and listed as one of the leading achievers around the world in Marquis Who’s Who in the World in 2013. He serves as an advisor and judge for several international organizations, including Global Leadership Awards, Malaysia. He received the International Coach of the Year 2013 Award from Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc. Professor Rao coined an innovative teaching tool called Meka’s Method; a leadership teaching tool, 11E Leadership Grid; and a new leadership tool called Soft Leadership Grid, based on his new leadership style, “Soft Leadership” copyrighted with Jossey Bass. He led a Webinar on Soft leadership organized by International Leadership Association ( A No.1 ranked speaker in India, reviews can be found at: Books can be found at: Most of his work is available free of charge in his three blogs and Contact him via e-mail at and follow him on Twitter at @professormsrao. Other references:


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