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Human Skills – Why We Aren’t Saying ‘Soft Skills’ Anymore

Inclusive leadership skills are really the basic human skills all top leaders should know.

Human skills (known as ‘soft skills’ to many) are a must have for today’s leader that is competing for top talent. According to MITSloan Management, they found the top five reasons for attrition are related to diversity and inclusion:

  • Toxic workplace culture
  • Job insecurity and reorganization
  • High levels of innovation
  • Failure to recognize employee performance
  • Poor response to COVID

They then unpacked what toxic workplace culture meant, as it had a far higher correlation to attrition, and found the lack of respect and inclusion as top predictors of having the perception of a toxic workplace culture.

What does the study mean for today’s leader? Employees are in control, employers are not. This is a relatively new phenomenon in modern workplace culture. Ever since the Mad Men era where most workplaces were created by white men for white men to succeed, a lot has changed in our cultures. Most organizations work globally, caregiving has become a workplace issue, and the ongoing pandemic – just to name a few. With these cultural shifts, a leadership shift must also occur.

Employees expect places to be inclusive, especially Gen Z, the new generation entering workplaces. 

According to a September 2021 survey from Glassdoor, 76 percent of employees and job seekers said a diverse workforce was important when evaluating companies and job offers.

This means inclusion is a non-negotiable for younger folks, meaning inclusive leadership is also non-negotiable. The challenge is when you use words like soft skills to describe inclusive leadership, people don’t take it seriously. They think of it as something nice to have, not a must-have as this data indicates it very much is. 

On the contrary, hard skills like technical, analytical, and problem-solving skills or industry experience are finite – either you have them or you don’t. Inclusive leadership and soft skills are more fluid; they are a practice that is learned over time. People can exercise them one moment well, and can also make bumbles and stumbles in another moment. 

The shift from ‘soft skills’ to ‘human skills’ suggests they’re vitally important 

This language shift clarifies that these are skills necessary to be successful in the workplace rather than things that you can work on in your “free time.” Human skills you should think about evaluating yourself, your team, and in your organization are:

  • Vulnerability
  • Empathy
  • Curiosity
  • Emotional awareness
  • Courage
  • Inspiration
  • Accountability

That is why I wrote the book Allyship in Action to help leaders understand how to practice these skills not just in the workplaces but in their personal spaces as well. There’s no longer an on and off switch to inclusion (if there ever really was one). These human skills are at the forefront of building an inclusive workplace culture. It’s important that all people inside an organization lead inclusively regardless of their position or title. When workplaces reward vulnerability like admitting mistakes or readily asking and providing feedback, or taking on the perspective of others that are different from yourself with empathy, you start to see this behavior modeled more broadly. When people see what behavior is acceptable and not acceptable they adopt it and they adapt.

Look through the list of some of these inclusive leadership behaviors. How would you rate yourself? How would you rate your team? How would you rate your organization? Chances are you’re not as good as you think. These human skills have rarely been trained or compensated for. They rarely are a part of how we evaluate performance or make promotion decisions. Instead we often make the mistake of promoting and rewarding the behavior of the ‘ideal worker’. The ideal worker is the person that’s always available, the person that answers emails late at night, goes above and beyond client expectations, and brings in big sales, often while modeling toxic behavior like taking credit for results (even when it is a team effort) or talking vs. listening to others. 

One simple start is to take our free inclusion assessment for your organization that might be helpful in finding other systemic opportunities to build a more inclusive culture. It will give you 20 ideas for tools and processes to consider pivoting to a more human and inclusive workplace. 

Want to do better, and not sure where to start?  That is why we developed the Lead Like an Ally virtual self-paced training program, perfect for organizations struggling with accountability for diversity. You can also check out all of our other virtual and live program offerings.