Down with “Soft Skills”

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As a follow-up to our proprietary research, which showed that Lateral Agility is a critical, yet underdeveloped, capability for leaders in High-Impact Roles, we looked to the external market to understand what, if anything, was being said on the same topic. Recognizing that there is expertise everywhere, it was important for us to complement our own research with the thought leadership of others. After doing an extensive literature review, we found that, across sources, there are nine shared traits that underpin lateral agility. These nine traits, which include curiosity, empathy, and humility, might, at first blush, appear to be “soft skills.” However, we think that needs a major reframe. What they really are, are Connective Skills.

Connective Skills are the skills that enable a leader to expertly build bridges across the enterprise. They are the building blocks of lateral agility. As organizations become more matrixed, complex, and increasingly siloed, these Connective Skills are the key to getting big things done.

Additionally, as we move to a world where automation and algorithms can handle routine tasks, it is the human touch that will set leaders apart. Connective Skills allow leaders to navigate ambiguity, bridge gaps between different teams and departments, and foster a culture of innovation and adaptability. These skills enable leaders to understand the diverse perspectives and needs of their peers, employees, and stakeholders, leading to more effective problem-solving, decision-making, and ultimately the success of enterprise-wide initiatives.

The mastery of Connective Skills is even more important the more senior the leader becomes:

● Generative AI is set to transform how organizations are structured. By decentralizing knowledge and expertise, it’s likely that companies will accelerate the move away from traditional, top-down hierarchies. Instead, they’ll adopt more flexible, dynamic ways of operating. With this shift, leaders will be able to rely even less on positional power to get things done. They will need to build deep connections across the enterprise to influence and drive decisions.

● Just like a professional pianist continues to hone and elevate their fundamental skills to become a maestro, a leader must continuously level up their connective skills, the ones that allow them to bridge human interactions in ways that technology can’t do alone.

According to EdX’s recent Navigating the Workplace in the Age of AI report, “47% of the C-Suite say that ‘most’ or ‘all’ of the CEO role should be replaced by AI.” With that startling perspective, what will differentiate successful senior leaders from others? It will be those who master AI as a

true co-pilot to free up their time to lean into what makes us innately human and can’t be duplicated by technology: Connective Skills.

Today’s organizations are in dire need of leaders who possess the specific set of skills needed to operate cross-functionally. Therefore, we need to start putting these Connective Skills on equal footing with technical skills such as AI, Marketing, and knowledge of global markets. Organizations and leaders that put time and attention towards developing and incentivizing these core skills will be best positioned to be successful in this increasingly complex world of work. Whatever you do, just don’t call these critical, connective skills “soft.”

For all the insights, download Down with “Soft Skills.” A Case for “Connective Skills.” Examining Cross-Enterprise Leadership.