Soft Skills in the Business and Personal World

George Pennington

George Pennington holds the chair for the soft skills at ZfU-International Business School, Switzerland, and has won several awards for his work. In 2005 he produced a 13-part TV series on soft skills, Bewusst Leben
– Psychologie für den Alltag (Living Consciously – Psychology for Everyday Life). Born in America in 1947, he has spent most of his life in Europe and for over 30 years he has led seminars and training sessions in the field of self-competence. He speaks fluent German, English and French and lives in Bavaria, Germany.

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George Pennington provides a psychologist’s perspective on why training in soft skills is vital for business (and personal) life.

In a 2008 survey the German Chamber of Commerce asked employers which were the most important skills future employees should be conversant with. The results of the survey were remarkable (see Table 1 opposite). Of the ten most important skills eight were soft skills (yellow). Among the top 20 there were only five hard skills (blue). Other surveys have shown similar results.

Employers want soft skills

Employers obviously want reliable, committed and responsible team players who are mature and independent people. They explicitly ask for soft skills.

Strangely, though, our schools and universities do not feature soft skills in their curricula. So employers have to make up for the deficit by providing trainingcourses themselves. Many do this at great expense.

…but not too much

When the head of HR of a large German technology corporation declined to schedule my soft skill training sessions for his employees he gave me the following explanation:

“We only get the very best performers from the high schools and universities. Once they are here we hang a beautiful golden carrot at the end of a stick just in front of their noses. Trying to reach that carrot they give not 100%; no, they give 140%. Mind you, they are not meant to get hold of the carrot. Very few do. That’s OK by us. It keeps the myth alive. The rest of them just run after it.

“We know that we will have to replace them at the age of 40 or 45 at the latest because by then they will be burned out. But until then we want them to give all they have.”

And with a friendly smile he added:

“I am afraid, Mr Pennington, if I let you loose on my middle management they might stop running after the carrot. We cannot and do not want to run that risk.”

This reluctant attitude towards equipping employees with soft skills is not uncommon. Employees should be self-reliant, committed, responsible, perceptive, creative and all that, certainly, but not too much so. They might become aware of the price theyare paying for running after their carrot – and reconsider their options.

The idea is: “Lord, let it rain, but don’t make them wet”.

For the full article, you can view the PDF or listen to the podcast.

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