Language can be glorious sometimes. Onomatopoeia are always hilarious (words like “glib” or “crunch” actually sound like what they mean). Then there are those words that do not sound anything like their meaning (“fungible” or “pulchritude”, among others).

Alas, there is the oxymoron, which is usually a humorous couplet of words that in the strictest sense do not belong together yet are generally accepted and understood. Expressions such as “awful good”, “even odds”, “dull roar”, “jumbo shrimp” or even “one-man band” come to mind.

These are the concepts that come to mind when I think of the expression “soft skills”. I understand why those skills are described in such a way. Wikipedia defines “soft skills” as; “…a combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes and emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) among others.”

I would submit that there is nothing soft about the skills required to lead, manage and mentor people properly. There are hard miles and tough lessons to get it right. Some people are naturally easy to relate to and communicate with ease (certain individuals would describe themselves as being a “people person” – which I never have understood what that really meant). While some people need to really work on their communication skills and their ability to develop and move people in the direction that is necessary for success.

I wouldn’t say these skills are underestimated any longer. However, I believe they are taken for granted. When someone looks at another and declares “oh, she’s a leader”, what do they mean and how can they tell from looking at them? Effective leaders communicate efficiently, consistently and clearly. Effective leaders clarify roles and responsibilities and ensure their teams possess the skills and resources necessary to accomplish clearly defined goals.

Effective leaders push their charges to be better and provide consistent constructive and positive feedback that helps develop the next line of effective leaders. This is hard work and there are many sleepless nights experienced and tough conversations held. There are frayed nerves and tears and heart palpitations. Why? Because that is the human condition. We are empathetic creatures. We do feel what others feel. When we have to deliver a tough message, we know how the recipient will feel when the message is delivered.

By possessing “soft skills”, according to modern parlance, the appropriate balance between sensitivity and objectivity allows any message to be delivered effectively, and any development and progress to be generated productively – most often in an inspiring manner.

My point is, that the expression “soft skills” sounds nothing like what it takes to master them.