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The Alternative Board Blog

Quick Guide: Hard and Soft Skills Every Leader Should Have

Sep. 26, 2019 | Posted by The Alternative Board
Hard and Soft Skills in Business Coaching

What skills should every CEO and business owner have? Is it more important to possess a wealth of hard skills or soft skills? What about the ability to coach others in strengthening their own skill sets? For executive business coaches—not to mention business leaders themselves—these questions are always front and center.

According to the job site Indeed, the primary differences between hard skills and soft skills “are how they are gained and put to use in the workplace.” Hard skills “include competencies like how to use a certain machine, software or other tools,” while soft skills “are more often seen as personality traits you may have spent your whole life developing.”

Most business leaders acquire relevant hard (or technical) skills on their way to the executive suite. They become industry experts, mastering a grasp of knowledge and key abilities that form a core for their leadership traits.

What’s often missing from the equation are essential soft skills every business leader ought to have. While technical skills are certainly valuable, the subject knowledge involved can always be improved upon or, just as importantly, transferred to others within the organization. After all, no one expects the CEO to be the expert in everything.

What people within a company do expect from a leader is that he or she will lead. Here’s where the soft skills component kicks in—because without the ability to inspire and motivate others, a leader really can’t get much done.

So what are these essential soft skills? Here’s a quick guide:


Have a vision you can share with others.

A CEO or business owner should always be thinking about the future. Sometimes, they get mired in day-to-day operations, but ideally, those tasks should be delegated to others. It’s up to the business leader to have a vision of where the organization is headed and to consider second- and third-tier consequences of actions taken today. People can’t be led if they don’t know where they’re going.

Sharing that vision means having the skills to communicate effectively across many venues—from drafting cogent emails and addressing a gathering of employees to acting as the public face of the organization with both stakeholders and, when necessary, the media. It means being able to speak clearly, avoid technical jargon, get to the point, and intuitively understand how to deliver a message to different audiences.


Be able to synthesize vast amounts of information.

Except in rare cases, it’s not necessary for a business leader to specialize in one area or another. Rather, he or she must have the ability to juggle an in-depth understanding of the company and its values with trends in the marketplace (including the competition) and how such apparently disparate elements as finance, operations, sales, and HR all fit together. A key element of leadership is being able to cut through the noise and focus on what’s genuinely important to the growth of the organization.

Make decisions.

Many leaders grapple with the messy outcomes of poor decision-making, such as over-thinking a problem, focusing on small details (as opposed to the big picture), or hurrying to make a decision before all the facts are in. By contrast, a leader with keen decision-making skills knows the right questions to ask while gathering information and how best to balance mastery of a given situation with one’s seasoned gut instincts. He or she also understands when a decision must be made.

Other important soft skills for leaders include the ability to:

  • Continuously absorb new data.
  • Tell stories (both personal and about the company) that move others to act.
  • Adapt to changing circumstances and conditions.
  • Solve the kinds of high-level problems others can’t address.

And yes, leaders should be adept at coaching others. But simply by mastering some or all of the above-mentioned skills, a CEO or business owner acts as a role model for others and helps them build their own arsenal of hard and soft skills.

Finally, a well-rounded business leader understands that he or she can always benefit from executive coaching. If you’re ready to explore business coaching services, why not start with the best? Contact The Alternative Board today and start the journey towards acquiring peak leadership skills for your organization!


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Written by The Alternative Board