Hard and soft skills. Management and technical roles. False dichotomy, unnecessary conflict.

Nowadays, most work is team work today, and soft skills are more important than hard skills. How can companies promote soft skills? Focusing on the hard ones, or delegating.

Choose to be kind over being right and you’ll be right everytime.

Richard Carlson

There are many problems when trying to understand what soft skills are and how to perceive them.

This leads to many bad situations. For example:

  1. The greatest players of office politics may be the ones getting up in the ranks, and they may be the most harmful people for the organization and their colleagues.
  2. Managers and people responsible of human resources may consider the false dichotomy that soft and hard skills are not compatible, promoting people with the least hard skills.
  3. Furthermore, in this false dichotomy, if managers lack both hard and soft skills, this may cause top performers to burn out and get fired, their managers to be fired, and/or the toxic environment causing yet another company to get out of business.
  4. Worse than that, if top performers in fact had the soft skills, the lack of them will be a self-fulfilled prophecy after they burn out.
  5. If soft skills are rewarded more than hard skills most people will seek better career progression in management and soft skills, and talent in hard skills may become scarce. The job market may break with managers keeping salaries for technical roles low, everybody trying to be managers, creating a surplus of managers, and eventually producing only bullshit.

A boss has the title. A leader has the people.

Simon Sinek

If measuring soft skills is hard or impossible for someone, there are two options:

  1. Meritocracy: For example as in software craftsmanship. In some cases, both hard and soft skills are hard to judge by laypeople. Focus on hard skills, ignore the false dichotomy that they are opposite. More often than not, they are positively correlated, either because:
    1. There is a shared cause: intelligence, dedication, or just skillfulness.
    2. Having one type of skills allows the person to spend more resources in exercising the other type of skills. This works both ways.
    3. Most work is team work nowadays, it is very hard to acquire hard skills without soft skills, and viceversa.
  2. Democracy: Delegate the responsibility of deciding who is skilled and who is not. Those working closer to the judged person (middle managers) will have more tools to judge their performance. In fact, teams should judge it, not the bosses. If teamwork is important in your company, let the teams decide. Let the structure and leadership emerge, spontaneous order is the way to go, and not rigid hierarchies. Hierarchies are a risk. when they are imposed and contrary to the natural order they need to change ASAP, or the toxicity accumulates extremely fast to a succession of no-return points.

There are always more options. Analogous to the false dichotomy hard/soft, the conflict between managers and technical roles is unnecessary, everybody could (should!) do both tasks. Flat and distributed structures are more scalable.


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