A new book frames qualities like humility, adaptability, and vulnerability as smart — not soft — skills to help leaders manage the most complex of variables: people.

Source: https://mitsloan.mit.edu/ideas-made-to-matter/10-smart-not-soft-skills-leaders

Someone in leadership asked for my feedback on this. This is my sentiment:

With some recent experiences and upcoming challenges with my health and the bravado I was conditioned and trained with, this is my current (because it could change 😉) perspective:


“You have to build self-awareness around your comfort zones. Starting to say yes more than saying no can be a great starting point.” — Emily Preiss, senior director of admissions and career transformation at Asia School of Business

Agreed, AND we have to be careful about what we are saying ‘yes’ to because, sometimes, what we are saying ‘no’ to is more important than what we are agreeing to. It depends and it is crucial to do the Zero Based Budget (ZBB) assessment to decide whether the risk is worth it.

For example–I’ve been saying ‘no’ to my doctor appointments so I could say ‘yes’ to my career goals. I finally stopped after our ZBB training and asked whether I was saying ‘yes’ to something that was harmful to myself, my friends, and my family. What good is saying ‘yes’ to my career goals if I die? This was a very difficult decision for me because both are important to me. It’s still hard and I’m adjusting to the hard decisions and working on a strategy that may tackle both goals.

Cognitive readiness: Absolutely, wholeheartedly, ‘yes’ to this. Horses taught me this and are continuing to teach this soft skill. Having a goal to build a relationship with my horse to have the cognitive readiness to remain partnered up with us during challenging and spooky moments requires trust. Diving into the 8 pillars of trust according to David Horsager has been a key component to build cognitive readiness in all of us. It’s hard because it requires being authentic.

While it is important to discern whom we can and cannot trust with our vulnerabilities and to be safe harbors for our stories, having the courage to lead with vulnerability can help teams have the readiness required to adapt and adjust in difficult times. Today, I chose that vulnerability with my team when I shared the upcoming event that will have an impact on them as well as my career goals. It doesn’t mean we cannot achieve our goals. We absolutely can. Over the next few months, we can discuss what we need to discuss and have critical conversations to move in a direction that can be resilient.

Emotional maturity: This is excruciating. It’s hard work and when we’re in the arena, it’s important to have fellow arena participants with us. A friend is going through some challenges with character assassination that is riddled with assumptions, hyperbole, and bias. I’ve been inviting a friend to spend quiet time with the horses and it’s offering moments of stillness in the chaotic noise that can be a part of life challenges. I’m having to learn emotional maturity while learning how to forgive myself for not being perfect at it. Providing opportunities for people to feel seen, heard, and valued is not an easy path. Emotional maturity is worth the struggle to afford people in our charge the civil spaces that give them a sense of belonging in teams.

Followership: Yes and so much ‘yes’ to this. “Followership is not the opposite of leadership, but a drive to pursue the shared mission and values of an organization, a group, or a project.” — Hadija Mohd, senior lecturer at Asia School of Business

From experience, studies have shared a C-Level sentiment that middle managers fail to understand the organization’s mission and values. In contrast, how frequently do they incorporate the message of values and company mission into their everyday actions? Ethics are a critical component of values. Does C-level leadership practice and share their lessons learned about ethics on a regular basis?

Ethics and values are more than a once-a-year subject. Ethics and values are daily efforts and when we fail to lead with a consistent message that resonates with the company goals through ethical actions, there’s a risk of ethical fading from leaders to the ground floor.

Humility: Without Timothy R Clark’s book, ‘Leading with Character and Competence: Moving Beyond Title, Position, and Authority‘ which discussed how humility is a cornerstone of character, there’s a likelihood I would have traveled down an unhealthy path that misunderstood what humility really is. This is one of the hardest soft skills to tackle because overconfidence bias is difficult to face.

This takes practice every single day and I’ve learned to be able to recognize when to take a step back to consider additional approaches to problems. In concert, Dunning-Kreuger’s effects can be conditioning that we’ve been using to survive for decades, and unlearning that habit is not easy. It is taking time to unlearn it while making the habit changes one small step at a time. The gaps are easier to find when we’re feeling our way through the unlearning and re-learning process.

Listening, Managing up, Multiple perspectives, productive inclusion, and validation are easier to do when we’re working on the aforementioned skills. Each of these facets to lead where we stand without title, status, and notoriety is difficult to do and, when we can put them into action and practice them every day with intention–it builds the skills we need when and if we are offered an opportunity to step into leadership roles.

We do not need the title to practice any of these skills. If we wait until we have a title to practice them, that’s when some painful mistakes can be made and I’ve learned it’s far better to make the mistakes as a student of these than to be in a role where some personalities expect flawless performance without proper training and mentorship.

I’m excited to read this book to see if any of my previous notions change. The beauty about being a student and retaining a student mindset is–we have the right to change our minds.