Soft Skills Prove Harder than Expected

The house was packed at Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on a late February Saturday at CMC. Phrases such as “impression management, emotional competency, and power poses” rang through the air to an eager and grateful audience. It was the 21st Kravis-de Roulet Conference, and demand for access to this year’s assemblage of world renowned researchers was high. Scholars had come from as far away as Portugal to present their models, discuss their theories, and explore the universal understanding of this year’s topic: soft leader skills.
Soft skills are the personal qualities, habits, attitudes and communication abilities that define the way people conduct themselves in a business atmosphere. And Saturday’s experts agreed that developing those skills make people more effective leaders and team members.
The day before the conference, 40 select attendees were involved in a roundtable discussion that allowed students and scholars to discuss in depth what was going to be presented the following day. This allowed the speakers to become immersed in the topic, and build some cohesiveness from one presentation to the next. It proved to be an integral part of the weekend’s success.
Claudia Raigoza ’14 was in attendance. “As a participant in the roundtable discussions that took place on Friday, I was able to speak with many of the participants and speakers,” she said. “We engaged in a conversation as a group, trying to set some parameters by defining soft versus hard leadership skills. That was not an easy task. In fact, I do not think that we ever truly arrived at a consensus for a definition, which demonstrates the complexity of leadership and leadership skills. They cannot be easily defined or measured like liquids in a beaker. Thus, I believe that this makes the job of leaders even harder than that of scientists or technicians who get to work with concrete skills. ”
“The conference itself was sold out,” said Dr. Sherylle J. Tann, associate director of research and internships at the Kravis Leadership Institute. “Right until its start, I was contacted by people who wanted to be on the waiting list to attend. Everyone I talked with expressed how important the topic is in leadership. Both President Pamela Gann, in her welcome to our preconference roundtable, and dean of the faculty Greg Hess, in his opening remarks, talked about how soft skills are the hardest skills.”
“These skills, used every day by leaders of CMC, are essential to leadership,” Tan said. “That makes it an excellent topic for this Kravis-de Roulet conference.” The conference also reinforced Raigoza’s belief that “being a leader is not necessarily meeting a checklist of criteria. It has to do with the example you set for others and the relationships that you foster in your life. I believe that is anything but a soft skill.”
For a more detailed look at some lessons from the conference, see this perspective from KLI director Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D.