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Soft Skills = Hard Skills

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

Written by: Teri Swope, Founder of SwopeLight

I fear that those of us that have espoused a different way of leading; authentic, on purpose, with courage, compassion and vulnerability, have contributed to this burgeoning defensive posture for and enthusiastic endorsement of "soft skills." The dichotomy is real. With numerous publications, white papers and books prophesizing the future relative value of the emotionally qualified candidate over the intellectually qualified candidate, it's no wonder we have experts in the field “daring” us to call courage a “soft skill” after we’ve tried practicing it at work. Brene Brown has spent an entire career convincing us that living and leading with authenticity, courage and vulnerability is the truest way to live, a point that seems almost indisputable. Simon Sinek aims to convince us that understanding our “why”, which is to say our purpose, is the only way to achieve personal or organizational greatness. But why do we have to be convinced? What, after all, is a legitimate argument to living and leading any other way? It seems in our defense of “soft skills” we’ve created a perceived chasm between the two skill sets, when in fact they’re different parts in a robust set of life and leadership skills.

I think we can all agree that formulating and articulating a corporate vision is an essential executive leadership skill. Let’s unpack the elements of creating a vision. It starts with imagination. Afterall, a vision is a story for the future that doesn’t yet exist. Imagination is the birth child of a still, focused mind (mindfulness) combined with creativity (flow). Behind any great vision is a process that was rooted in mindfulness/meditation and tapping into a flow state. The great executive behind the vision may not have recognized it as such, but it is what it is.

Next let’s break down the skill of driving exceptional individual and team performance. The term “driving” implies “hard skills”, but what if we inspire as opposed to drive exceptional performance. A leader inspires by encouraging people to believe in and pursue the highest version of themselves. An inspiring leader listens with the intent of connecting, building trust and safety. An inspiring leader welcomes the “whole” person into the workplace, not just the parts that put together widgets or solve problems. An inspiring leader has the courage to give honest, relevant feedback, especially when it’s hard to deliver. An inspiring leader has the courage to be vulnerable and sit with an open heart when receiving the same honest relevant feedback. As it happens, soft skills is standing tall right in the middle of exceptional performance…AL

How about strategic planning, project management, product design…no softness implied in any of these skills. Or are there? Strategic planning requires focus (mindfulness) and vision (creativity). Project planning requires organization (attention to detail = mindfulness). Product design requires creativity, which is inspired by a still mind and a flow state. Even technical skills such as programming, graphic design, rocket science all require learning. And with a still, focused mind, we all have the capacity to learn anything we desire.

So instead of being in competition with one other, it might be more apropos to think of soft and hard skills as in a waltz together, with soft skills gently guiding the beauty of the graceful movement between them….and there is no beauty or grace without both dancers.


Teri Swope is CEO and Founder of SwopeLight Consulting, a leadership coaching/consulting firm. She has 27+ years of experience developing leaders and organizational cultures.

Her leadership style is inspired by the teachings of Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Adam Grant, Stephen Covey and many other mindful, heart-led authors and leaders.

“At SwopeLight, we believe there is tremendous untapped potential in organizations; potential for deep human connection, collaboration and innovation. We believe in inspiring leaders to pursue the highest version of themselves. We believe conscious leadership is the key to this inspiration and to accessing an unlimited well of creativity and innovation.”

Teri has a B.B.A in International Management from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She holds leadership certifications from the Inner MBA Program from MindfulNYU - New York University/Sounds True/Wisdom 2.0 as well as The Leadership Challenge program.

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