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Hard or soft - which skills are best?

A recent report ‘Which CEO characteristics and abilities matter’ conducted by the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, says that ‘hard’ skills predict performance. ‘Soft’ skills such as listening, flexibility and treating people with respect are not valued as highly – though it is fair to say that this report looked at only one sector of business – private equity firms in the US.

From the survey qualities such as aggressiveness, efficiency, persistence, setting high standards and holding people accountable are perceived as more valuable than softer skills.

Interestingly, when other business schools were asked for their comments in an article in the Guardian, Srikumar Rao, visiting professor at the London Business School, says humility is the key to good leadership. Murray Steele at Cranfield Business School, thinks that ‘our increasingly individualistic society necessarily requires a more tailored management style in order to build loyalty and longer-term success.’

I think all the hard qualities listed, apart from aggressiveness, are essential to good leadership, and that effective leaders need a mix of hard and soft skills to achieve organisational results. Good leaders are clear about the business goals that need to achieve, they foster trust and build relationships and confidence of the people working with and for the business.

A key behaviour for leaders is to walk the talk – because it’s action that counts and people soon spot the gap if your actions do not follow your words.


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