Why Soft Skills Are About ‘Being’ First And ‘Doing’ Second

This article originally appeared as a Council Post on Forbes here.

“I am a human being, not a human doing.”

—Kurt Vonnegut, author of Breakfast of Champions

Leaders have already realized the importance of developing soft skills in their next-in-line leaders to increase the business’s bottom line. According to a McKinsey survey, large-scale reskilling is a concern and priority for 82% of C-suite executives worldwide. Organizations in advanced economies are expected to reskill tens of millions of mid-career, middle-age workers within the next 5-10 years with a shift to focus on more social and emotional skills along with advanced cognitive skills.

However, more than once, I have heard senior leaders lament that they have not seen a return on their investment in developing employees. So what’s wrong?

Teaching someone hard skills is often more straightforward. There are usually clear right or wrong answers. Teaching soft skills is a different ballgame altogether. Effective reskilling of the workforce to develop those necessary soft skills for the future requires a combination of both traditional and non-traditional methods. To develop the right learning experiences delivered through a blended approach, we need to move away from the mindset that soft skills are attributes from a list of standard, prescriptive behaviors (“doing”) to appreciating that everybody exhibits soft skills in their own manner (through their “being”).

Here are some reasons why “being” comes before “doing.”

• Soft skills can be perceived by others through your behavior.

• Behavior is driven by thoughts and emotions, which are, in turn, a result of values, beliefs and motivations.

• Behaviors can be demonstrated mechanically, but they can never be used in an agile manner unless they are internalized (i.e., congruent with values and beliefs).

Improving emotional intelligence is key. Emotional intelligence is the base of competencies that all soft skills are built upon and accounts for nearly 90% of what enables corporate executives to advance in their careers. To improve emotional intelligence, leaders need to first start with building self-awareness. In my experience, leaders who can clarify their values, beliefs and motivations — the inner work — develop soft skills much faster.

Here are some steps leaders can take to work on their “being”:

1. Continually get to know yourself.

As we navigate through life and our career, experiences change us. How we define values in our lives must also be renewed with time. Some values may be relevant in the past but might not serve us anymore. Conducting ourselves according to these outdated values could cause a disconnect which shows up in the form of perceived social incompetence, i.e., poor soft skills.

Some questions that might be helpful are:

• What do I want and why?

• What motivates me now?

• Which values are most relevant in my life now?

If you can answer these questions, you will have a clearer idea of how you want to project yourself to others.

When we build our professional network with others, we need to stay connected with ourselves and continue to act with integrity — where our behavior aligns with our values.

2. Check in with your emotions periodically.

Emotions are a gateway to something deeper. Being aware helps us stay connected with our being.

Some questions that could help are:

• What am I feeling?

• How are my emotions showing up?

• What are my triggers? Why do these events/people/words/behaviors trigger me?

When you are aware of our emotions, you can then begin to understand them, regulate them and choose how you want to express both positive and negative emotions constructively.

3. Look out for recursive patterns in your life.

Most of us live our lives (both personal and professional) in some form of pattern. Behaviors driven by the same values and beliefs often create the same outcome. If it is a constructive pattern, carry on. Otherwise, it might be time to get curious.

Some questions you can ask yourself are:

• What kind of responses do I often elicit from people?

• What were the similarities in the conditions when I did well, and when I did poorly?

• What was I feeling in those moments and why?

• How was I behaving on those occasions?

Patterns will always recur until you learn to think, feel and act differently.

Your reality will only change when you start taking actions, no matter how small. Build some time into your daily routine to reflect and introspect. These could be as short as 15 minutes or as long as you want. Only by bringing the “being” back into focus will the right “doing” follow.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Take advantage of Chuen Chuen’s extensive experience coaching leaders worldwide and her deep expertise in designing agile leadership corporate training solutions for your teams. No matter which stage of leadership you are at, we can partner you and meet your business needs. Explore our executive coaching programs,corporate training courses or hire Chuen Chuen as your speaker so that your organisation will become agile and adaptive.

One thought on “Why Soft Skills Are About ‘Being’ First And ‘Doing’ Second

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  1. I agree with your point of view, your article has given me a lot of help and benefited me a lot. Thanks. Hope you continue to write such excellent articles.

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