Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: Who Wins?

Sun Tzu Has the Best Answer

The hard skills vs soft skills “beauty contest” starts when you plan to hire a leader:

  • What hard skills should the person have?
  • Are hard skills a competitive advantage, or, on the contrary, you need to focus on soft skills?
  • Is knowledge more important than attitude?



When it comes to leadership, the set of job skills a leader has is essential. A certain level of hard skills (technical skills) is required, but not enough.

However, an obvious lack of soft skills (people skills) should be a red flag when it comes to the capacity of the leader to sustain his team’s success in the long run.

Is there a perfect ratio of hard skills vs soft skills in a leader?

What do you choose when you want to hire a good team leader?

Before trying to answer this question, let’s first make sure we are all on the same page and start with defining what hard skills and soft skills are.


What are Hard Skills?

Hard skills are the combination of specific knowledge and abilities required to be successful in a job.

Characteristics of Hard Skills

Often called technical skills, hard skills are teachable skills. They are easier to measure than soft skills. Hard skills are not the opposite of soft skills, they are just the other face of the same coin.

Hard Skills Examples

Mathematical skills, data analysis, software coding, supply chain management, accounting, and any other type of technical job-related skills. Not to be confused with hard work skills!


Hard Skills



What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are defined by how you approach life and work, the way you interact with other people.

Characteristics of Soft Skills

Soft skills are personal-driven and hard to measure. The soft skills list, also called people skills, is rather large. They enhance our emotional intelligence and help us navigate complex work contexts.

Examples of Soft Skills

The soft skills list is rather large, but here are some good example of soft skills to include in a resume: communication, negotiation, capacity to motivate, creativity, delegation, responsibility, flexibility, teamwork.



Soft Skills List



Are soft skills more important than hard skills for a leader? - #LeadershipDevelopment #BusinessTransformation #DigitalTransformation #entrepreneur Share with a Friend


Let’s consider for a second that the best way to answer this question is by putting yourself in the shoes of your team members. How? By developing empathy (a soft skill).

Would you prefer to be in a team lead by a fantastic individual with exceptional people (soft) skills but with not enough hard skills?

Or, the other way around, to be in a team lead by a well-rounded professional, a leader with outstanding hard skills but with inexistent soft skills?

This is a rather extreme situation, but unfortunately, also a real-life situation.

And it’s clear that these teams are not the happiest, best-performing entities. Though, exceptions exist.




Hard Skills vs Soft Skills – The Sweet Spot

I have witnessed situations where the teams were performing incredibly well under both of these extreme conditions. The secret might reside in the fact that the team was compensating the lack of skills (hard or soft) of the leader and everyone was happy with the situation.


Hard skills soft skills intersection


Most probably, there is no best recipe for the ratio of each of these skills in a good leader. Choosing one skill over the other should be triggered by the context in which the leader operates.


Choosing soft skills over hard skills should be triggered by the context in which the leader operates - #leaders #leadershipDevelopment #TeamWork Click To Tweet


Some of the team members will follow a leader with strong technical skills while others will appreciate the soft skills.

This means, in the end, that leaders need to use their best judgment (and a mix of self-awareness and empathy) to decide what is the best attitude to adopt and to adapt their job skills to choose the correct mix of hard and soft skills with every team member in every situation.

More than 1,000 years ago, Sun Tzu gave a great answer to the question: What is more important for a leader: hard skills or soft skills?


“Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline … Reliance on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Exercise of humaneness alone results in weakness. Fixation on trust results in folly. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Excessive discipline and sternness in command result in cruelty. When one has all five virtues together, each appropriate to its function, then one can be a leader.”


If you were to give a recipe for the skill combination of a good leader, how would you set the ratio between soft and hard skills?

What about you, how would you evaluate your own hard skills to soft skills ratio?




Hard Skills vs Soft Skills – A Different Angle

Let’s suppose that your leadership skill set is perfectly balanced, and neither your soft skills nor your hard skills need improvement.

You are at the place where you need to be in terms of technical knowledge, self-awareness, and empathy?

But are you there always? What happens to your reaction and reasoning capacity when you are tired? Stressed? On a tight schedule?

There is a proven correlation between your capacity to evaluate correctly a social situation (and the same is valid for technical issues) and your level of stress. The more stressed we are, the less correct our evaluation is. And our answer suffers. With the consequences that you could imagine.

In the hard skills vs soft skills “beauty contest”, which of the two should win?

Nobody denies the importance of hard skills, but during “hard times” the soft skills should not be forgotten.


The more stressed we are, the less correct is our evaluation of the situation. And we are more inclined to use reasoning shortcuts. - #stress #assumptions #leadershipDevelopment Click To Tweet


Develop self-awareness to be able to express your soft skills even during stressful times. Take time to study and add more items to your soft skills list (yes, soft skills can be learned, too). Take time for yourself, to relax. Take a step back, to grasp the whole context. This way, you can always be your best self. Even during tough times.

After all, they say a person character shows best when the times are tough and pressure is high.



Daniel Goleman – Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ 

John Sonmez – Soft Skills: The software developer’s life manual

Bruce Tulgan – Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to Teach the Missing Basics to Todays Young Talent

Daniel Goleman’s Website

Warren Bennis – On Becoming a Leader