Soft Skills Vs. Power Skills—Is There A Difference?


The terms "soft skills" and "hard skills" are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference between the two. Soft skills are more human-centred, non-technical, and transferable, while hard skills are measurable, technical, and job-specific. Both sets of skills are crucial for career success, as a strategic combination of soft and hard skills can lead to promotions, pay raises, new opportunities, career pivots, and strong professional relationships.

The term "soft skills" has its origins in the U.S. military, where leaders realized the importance of intangible leadership skills alongside physical combat abilities for a group's success. More recently, the term "soft skills" has been rebranded as "power skills," gaining popularity but also sparking debate among professionals worldwide.

The shift to "power skills" reflects an understanding of the influential and essential nature of these human-centric abilities in the modern work environment. Whether referred to as soft skills or power skills, their significance lies in their role in leadership, teamwork, communication, adaptability, and emotional intelligence, which are critical for success in any profession. These skills can't simply be learned and mastered through technical training but require ongoing development and application in various professional contexts.  

What Are Soft Skills?

Whenever the term "soft skills" is used, it is usually meant to refer to personal attributes and interpersonal skills that enable you to easily get along well and collaborate with others, maintain a healthy work ethic, and render you more effective in your role. Some examples of the most essential soft skills desired in the workforce today include:

  • Communication skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Leadership
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Adaptability and resilience

In fact, when listing "skills on the rise" in its Future of Jobs Report 2023, the World Economic Forum listed many of the above skills, and other soft skills such as curiosity and attention to detail dominated the list.

Why Power Skills?

Perhaps one of the most profound statements on the topic of soft skills was made by Josh Bersin when he said in 2019, "Hard skills are soft (they change all the time, are constantly being obsoleted, and are relatively easy to learn), and soft skills are hard (they are difficult to build, critical, and take extreme effort to obtain)."

Power skills are the newly popularized term for soft skills, because many experts like Bersin say that soft skills are the most important and hardest skills to build in the world of business, and rightfully so.

A good comparison would be a car and its fuel. The car is the "hard" element that gets the job done. It carries you from A to B. But the fuel is what gets it moving. Without this fuel, having a car is pointless. The same goes for your career. To really get ahead and maximize your use of your "hard skills," you need to be optimistic, have an attitude of curiosity, be able to communicate effectively and build relationships with others.

Power skills—the new soft skills—are what enable organizations, their leaders and managers, and even those in non-leadership positions, to thrive. Many businesses fail, not because they lack the infrastructure or technology, but due to a downfall resulting from their low prioritization of these essential skills that power the economy.

It's time to pay closer attention to upskilling yourself and your teams with power skills. Compliance and technical training on how to use the updated software system that just rolled in is important. But equally essential is the time you take as a leader or manager to develop your own power skills and invest in upskilling your team to do the same.

Perhaps there is a great deal of wisdom we can glean from the U.S. military of the 1950s. We can even go as far as to say that the greatest power in the world of business is not facts, figures, systems, and processes, but the people behind them who leverage these hard qualities (or shall we call them "soft" like Bersin) with their power skills.

The brains of men and women operate differently, scientists have shown for the first time in a breakthrough that shows sex does matter in how people think and behave.

‌The issue of whether male and female brains are distinct has proven controversial, with some academics arguing it is society – rather than biology – that shapes divergence.

‌There has never been any definitive proof of difference in activity in the brains of men and women, but Stanford University has shown that it is possible to tell the sexes apart based on activity in “hotspot” areas.

‌They include the “default mode network”, an area of the brain thought to be the neurological centre for “self”, and is important in introspection and retrieving personal memories. 

‌The limbic system is also implicated, which helps regulate emotion, and memory and deals with sexual stimulation, and the striatum, which is important in habit forming and rewards.

‌Experts said the brain differences could influence how males and females view themselves, how they interact with other people and how they recall past experiences.

‌Dr Vinod Menon, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford, said: “This is a very strong piece of evidence that sex is a robust determinant of human brain organisation.”‌

“Our findings suggest that differences in brain activity patterns across these key brain regions contribute to sex-specific variations in cognitive functioning.”

However, she added that further research is needed to fully understand the implications of the findings.

‌It is well known that male and female chromosomes release sex-specific hormones in the brain, particularly in early development, puberty and during ageing.‌

There are also marked differences in how women and men perform in the real world. 

Women tend to be better at reading comprehension and writing ability on average, and have good long term memory. 

Conversely, men seem to have stronger visual and spatial awareness and better working memory.

‌Yet scientists have struggled to spot these differences in neural activity, with brain structures looking the same in men and women.‌

For the research, the team used “explainable AI” – a type of computer learning which can sift through vast amounts of data to explain why an effect is taking place.

‌The model was shown MRI scans of working brains and told whether it was looking at a woman or man. Over time, the neural network began to pick out subtle differences between the two sexes that had been missed by humans.

‌When the researchers tested the model on about 1,500 brain scans, the model was able to tell if the scan came from a woman or a man more than 90 per cent of the time.

‌Dr Gina Rippon, emeritus professor of cognitive neuroimaging at the Aston Brain Centre, and author of The Gendered Brain, has argued that society is to blame for brain differences in men and women.

‌Commenting on the study, she said: “The really intriguing issue is that those areas of the brain which are most reliably distinguishing the sexes are key parts of the social brain.

‌“The key issue is whether these differences are a product of sex-specific, biological influences, or of brain-changing gendered experiences. Or both. Are we really looking at sex differences? Or gender differences?

‌“Or, acknowledging that almost all brain–shaping factors are dynamically entangled products of both sex and gender influences, are we looking at what should be called sex/gender differences?”

‌Experts are hopeful that finding differences between male and female brains could be crucial in tackling neurological or psychiatric conditions that affect women and men differently.

‌For example, women are twice as likely as men to experience clinical depression while men are more at risk of drug and alcohol dependence and dyslexia. The brain areas discovered in the study are often associated with neurological disease.

‌Dr Menon added, “A key motivation for this study is that sex plays a crucial role in human brain development, in ageing, and in the manifestation of psychiatric and neurological disorders.”

“Identifying consistent and replicable sex differences in the healthy adult brain is a critical step toward a deeper understanding of sex-specific vulnerabilities in psychiatric and neurological disorders.”

‌Researchers said the AI model could answer other important questions about brain connectivity, cognitive ability, or behaviour and will be making it publicly available for any researchers to use.

‌The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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