Soft Skills Are the New Hard Skills for Success

Creating a successful workplace culture starts with developing soft skills across the organization.


The news is troubling.

Nearly a third of mid-career employees across all professional services quit their jobs last year—and many of those left without another job lined up.

Hinge Research Institute’s recent report, “Navigating the Mid-Career Talent Crisis,” found that 70 percent of these professionals (between 30 and 45 years old) cited frustration with their boss and company culture as their top two reasons for quitting. And almost 94 percent of respondents didn’t feel comfortable sharing these concerns with leadership.

This news may surprise senior executives who fail to recognize the effect of their leadership and company culture on employees. Employers must rethink their leadership style and company culture to retain valuable talent. For many mid-career professionals, the employee/employer relationship must change for the better.

Creating a successful workplace culture starts with developing soft skills across the organization. These behaviors, personality traits, and professional habits help people prosper at work. While some attributes come naturally, others need work and constant reinforcement.

Understanding Your Firm’s Culture Clash

Mid-career employees are the rising stars of your organization, often possessing the skills many businesses rely on. Yet, this group finds itself in a precarious position. They are accountable for implementing senior management’s strategies and goals and carry the burden of creating a supportive, visionary, and fun work environment for their teams.

Our study showed that only 48 percent of mid-career respondents are satisfied with their current jobs. Many employees are now passively or actively looking for new opportunities.

A New Understanding of Senior Leadership

What do mid-career employees want? Nearly 50 percent of employees want leadership to provide a clear promotion path with clearly defined expectations. More than a third of the people we surveyed desire fulfilling and engaging work. They also seek adequate training and experiences to help grow their careers.

This is good news for an organization. Using this data, let’s determine how HR and senior leadership can work together to meet this need. 

5 Essential Soft Skills for Leaders

Can you train for soft skills? Absolutely. Reinforcing soft skills can improve one’s ability to work with others and rise in an organization. If you are a manager at any level, soft skills can help you attract and retain great employees and get the best out of them.

Set high expectations from the start of whatever form of training you decide on. The content must be meaningful and in-depth; employees must be able to apply these strategies in their daily work.

How you roll out these programs to your leadership (and employees) is equally critical. Of course, senior leadership wants their employees to be happy, resilient, and productive. Position these development programs as long-term investments in your people (at all levels).

Here are five essential soft skills every great leader (and employee) needs to be successful. Consider programs that focus on these critical skills:

  1. Empathy/Compassion. Skilled leaders rely on their ability to understand others. By approaching everyone with patience, kindness, and respect, leaders will help their employees feel valued and empowered. In return, middle management will treat their direct reports the same way.
  2. Appreciation for your team. Great leaders acknowledge the value of their teams. They foster collaboration, promote the sharing of ideas, and regularly recognize employees’ contributions to the business. This recognition will help employees feel valued and open the doors for great mentoring opportunities—opportunities that will help you build a pipeline of future leaders.
  3. Integrity and honesty. These are the staples of outstanding leadership. Leaders can inspire trust and loyalty by fostering open, safe, transparent lines of communication with staff. These skills are essential when leading a remote or hybrid environment or a large organization where it’s easy to feel overlooked.
  4. Emotional Intelligence. Self-awareness and interpersonal skills are key traits of emotional intelligence. Evaluating your emotions before confronting situations and interacting with others takes practice. Leaders with strong interpersonal skills are more patient and approachable when conflict or challenges arise.
  5. Owning Up to Mistakes. Confident leaders admit their own mistakes and take steps to fix problems. They also set a powerful example for employees. Confident leaders welcome employee feedback on improving processes and building a stronger workplace culture.

A Final Thought

People don’t just leave companies. They leave leaders and the cultures they create.

Leaders with strong interpersonal skills motivate and inspire their teams at all levels. They build cultures based on kindness, respect, and creativity. For many mid-career employees, this can make a difference in whether they stay with an organization or look for other opportunities.

Don’t underestimate the benefits of showing employees that you are listening. Leadership training and employee development programs will go a long way to helping you attract and retain the top talent you need to succeed.

Lee W. Frederiksen, Ph.D., is managing partner at Hinge, a research-based branding and marketing firm for professional services. Hinge conducts ground-breaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to become more visible and grow.