In 1988, I was in Los Angeles learning about corporate leadership when I was invited to attend a lecture by Tom Peters, one of the thought leaders in business consulting at that time. I was excited to see him, and was not disappointed. I am sure he talked mostly about the theories in his book, ‘In Search of Excellence,’ but mostly what I remember was how I felt...I was sure I could conquer the world.
Jumping forward 31 years, Tom Peters is giving some farewell thoughts to the business world. He gives a summary of his last 37 years of work and it is only 6 words long--he could have saved all of us a lot of time, money and reading if he had done this earlier! Here are his 6 words, and I recommend them to everyone: Hard is soft.Soft is hard.
Hard is Soft
When Tom Peters uses the term "hard" he is referring to plans, numbers, and organizational charts. He says this part of the business is "soft.” This is because it is easy to put numbers together and make them look and sound reasonable. All we have to do is look at the ‘financial engineering’ that led us into the Great Recession of 2009. We had CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) and CMOs (collateralized mortgage obligations) and other great abbreviations (and ten cent words) that defined the quality of investment grade bonds that were going to make everyone rich--and it was all a lie--but one that was quantified easily with numbers that made great grafts and charts. Numbers are readily manipulated and plans are more often than not, just fantasies; they have little to do with how things actually get done.
Soft is Hard
"Soft" is people skills, relationships, and organizational culture. This part of the business is "hard." You get things done on the basis of your patiently developed network of relationships. You get things done with a captivating and effective culture that reinforces people are the key. Your company is no more than the people who work there. As a leader, it is your job to understand and care about every person in your organization, and help them understand that you live it, and believe it. Quality and time become the most important soft skills--and that is what makes it hard.
Soft Skills to Learn
OK...I promised you 6 words, but I will leave you with some additional words (all caps courtesy of Tom Peters). These are some of the soft skills which are hard because they take focus and time, but they are key to getting things done:
*BUILDING/MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS ... takes time.
*RECRUITING ALLIES TO YOUR CAUSE ... takes time.
*LUNCH ... takes time.
*BUILDING/MAINTAINING A HIGH-PERFORMANCE CULTURE ... takes time.
*READING/STUDYING ... takes time.
*FIERCE/AGGRESSIVE LISTENING ... takes time.
*MBWA/MANAGING BY WANDERING AROUND ... takes time.
*SLACK IN YOUR SCHEDULE ... takes time.
*HIRING/EVALUATING/PROMOTING ... take time.
*THOUGHTFULNESS ... takes time.
*E-X-C-E-L-L-E-N-C-E ... takes time.