leadership pet peeves

Why Leadership Is Not Soft and Other Pet Peeves

I have a pet peeve I want to share with you. I can’t stand the word “soft” when describing matters of leadership, organizational change, or any other matter related to working with people. It undermines the incredibly difficult nature of leadership.

I was recently asked what I wanted people to know about the human side of business? My answer? That it’s not soft. As long as people are involved in the human side of business, the art and science of leadership will be messy. What’s more, using “soft” to describe leadership waters down the hard work people invest in becoming a better leader.

Leadership isn’t soft. It’s razor sharp and can cut deeply if used carelessly.

John Mattone, a top leadership expert, recently interviewed me. He asked what I thought of the saying, “It’s not personal; it’s business.” It’s a great question. Check out the full interview for my response. I’ll tell you this much: Business is personal.

While leadership is the key to unlock people’s potential, it’s also the barrier to it. I suppose this is a paradox. It’s what makes leadership one of the hardest choices you’ll make, if you take your growth seriously. You’ll come up against the limitations of your thinking and question your actions. You’ll marvel at the ease in which things happen when leadership inspires and is selfless.

The human side of business is what we’re about at Switch+Shift. We believe that to achieve business success, you need to have an extraordinary employee experience. Let’s not gloss over how difficult this is. Consider over a decade of low engagement numbers a sign of how hard it is to lead people to want to do great things.

Be sure to check out John Mattone and the great work he is doing. He’s interviewed leadership experts in a blog series that’s informative, fascinating, and helpful.


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Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • KateNasser

    Hi Shawn, I too hate the word soft. It has been used in “soft skills” to mean people skills and like you said it sidesteps all the hard work AND big value that results.

    All the best,
    Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

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