Updated: May 30, 2018
How our focus on technical skills in business has caused us to tread a very lonely path.
I had the privilege of hearing the incredibly inspiring Claude Silver speak recently. For those of you who aren't familiar with her work, Claude is currently the Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia. Her journey has not been a linear one but then I get the impression she would say "whose has?" And she'd be right. Our journeys are not linear. They are messy, emotional, turbulent, passionate, exhausting, magical and a whole lot more besides. But what unites us all is that we suffer and relish this roller-coaster because we are human. We feel, we make mistakes and we strive. Claude spoke beautifully about her journey and as she spoke I had the strangest sensation, that someone had cracked open my heart and understood what I had been saying for years.
My background is also the media world. It's a decade of my life that I will always look back on fondly. There were many lessons learnt, technical skills honed and friendships made. Business was won and lost and I made plentiful mistakes. But there was always something that sat uneasily for me. It was a disconnect between the time spent analysing and understanding human behaviour and decision making for the sake of a campaign whilst all the time I saw first hand the impact of behaviours in business that seemed cold at best and inhumane at worst. To be clear, my employer at the time made attempts (some of them successful) to rectify the problem but it never really went away. That lingering backbone of the technical vs the human was becoming further emboldened by the growth in programmatic trading and a landscape that was increasingly digital at its heart. This 'digital heart' is capable of many things but it does not beat, does not feel, does not bleed, does not love. When Claude spoke it was as though everything I had seen unfold and the reasons I had left media were founded in reality and more than that, that someone else was looking them squarely in the eye and saying "no, not anymore, not on my watch".
Rightly as businesses develop and grow they automate processes and focus on how technology can make things faster, smoother, more efficient and ultimately more lucrative. There is no harm in any of that and I wouldn't for a second want to stand in the way of these important developments. But has it cost us some of our humanity? People spend less and less time talking face-to-face in the same space now. A screen cannot replace the warmth of a human interaction and sadly that means fewer people have the self-awareness and understanding of what makes others 'tick'. The clients I work with now are redressing the balance and we spend time unpicking exactly what makes them who they are and where their own seemingly ordinary 'humanness' can in fact make them superhuman.
Claude Silver is championing a war on the phrase 'soft skills' and I'm with her all the way. It has always struck me as odd that for something called 'soft' there seem an endless stream of people who find them 'hard' to master. Businesses though are starting to recognise that something needs to change with a recent study through Pareto Law finding that of the top five skillsets worth investing in, 80% fall into the 'soft skills' criteria. Sadly though, we are some way from every business having the foresight to employ a Chief Heart Officer, as with Claude's appointment at VaynerMedia. Part of the challenge is the intangible nature of these skills; they are notoriously hard to quantify. Talking about them also still makes many business leaders uncomfortable. These 'soft' elements are our very essence of being, they are deeply personal. They are why people trust us (or don't) and they move us from the mundane to the magical. Business leaders are scared of magic, it sounds vague and they are often frightened to make it personal, they don't lead heart first as it can be perceived as too risky. But, the truth is that by making it personal, by leading with our hearts, we can transform the landscape of many businesses around the world. We all have the talents within us to transform ourselves and those around us, the tools are already there.
Understanding and harnessing our humanity will take us from a lonely path to one filled with others who want to walk that path with us. A path filled with people swiftly becomes a superhighway and surely a superhighway is exactly the kind of business growth everyone is chasing?
We have invested our budgets in the technology at our fingertips.
Perhaps it's time we invested our budgets and our hearts in being more human.
If you'd like to see real growth and move you and your business forward using your heart and not just your head, then I would love to hear more. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on +44(0)7834 455602 to start the conversation.