Thinking Hard and Soft

Skills are both quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative, or hard skills, are measurable and can be, for the most part, expressed with numbers. These are skills that can be taught, defined and measured. Accounting, architecture, computer programming, and auto mechanics are among many hard skills. Hard skills are acquired in on-the-job training, formal education, and apprenticeships. And when you complete your training you are thought possess the skills for which you have been trained. You have a certificate or diploma that asserts in an objective manner that you have attained a certain level of proficiency with consistent results.

Qualitative, or soft skills, are also measurable, but not necessarily by quantifiable means. Most soft skills are considered personal attributes such as patience, tolerance for ambiguity, empathy, courtesy, flexibility, decision-making, reliability, or language proficiency (Ramsoomair & Howey, 2004). Of course, these skills can be taught, too. You might have learned them at home, on the playing field, or in a classroom. However, defining and measuring the impact of these skills is much more difficult. You might be able to take a course in soft skill, for example, but assessing your proficiency in that skill defies most testing. Because, whether you possess a soft skill and use it well is often subjective.

In the broadest sense, some might argue you can learn hard skills but have a more natural tendency toward certain soft skills based in part on your personality. For example, you might be well-educated and have a lot of experience in our field, but if you don’t work and play well with others finding and keeping a job might be a challenge.

You might worry less about finding and keeping a job as an entrepreneur, so you probably think less about soft skills. Yet soft skills are an essential component of your ability to launch a business.  Soft skills, for example, are necessary to both build and maintain social and business networks. Such skills also support your decision-making in day-to-day operations and guide your strategy development. It’s difficult to recognize your own soft skills, let alone those such skills in partners and prospective employees. But, soft skills are a critical component in building a high-performing team. The challenge when hiring is often how to discern those skills in the interview process.

Culling out soft skills in a partner or applicant is more challenging. While there are a number of tools and services that purport to help you assess those soft skills—behaviorial interviewing and the DiSC Assessment are my go-to’s—the tools only provide a guide. And of course, they are useless unless you know what soft skills these individuals will need (hint: most startups need people who have a high tolerance for ambiguity). Nonetheless, such tools remain subjective and should not be the sole determinate as to whether an individual you are considering for a partner or employee has those soft skills your company may need.

In the absence of tools that attempt to measure soft skills, you, like many other managers, might interview others by assessing their “ability to do the job.” In doing so, you are likely assessing only their hard skills. The “ability to do the job” is often determined by measuring the individual’s hard skills and experience against the job description, which likely also specifies only hard skills (e.g., five-plus years in computer programming, six-sigma black belt, knowledge of scrum and agile methodologies). Rarely do you see a job description that includes, “Must work and play well with others.” And if you do, how will that skill be assessed or measured?

So, when you have five candidates with equal hard skills, who do you choose? It often comes down to whether you like one candidate over the others. One candidate whose personality comes through—the one you like out of all the others—is often the one deemed a good fit for your organization and its culture. But, you don’t really know because you cannot effectively measure the fit—those soft skills—until the new hire is working and you can see for yourself how well he or she assimilates. Even then, it’s a somewhat subjective decision.

Soft skills bring more effective management and provide support to your organization’s strategic goals as a result of greater integration and understanding among those members on the team (Ramsoomair & Howey, 2004). All things being equal, soft skills are the things that should give your company a competitive advantage. Empathy, courtesy, language proficiency, the ability to “work and play well with others” are the things that bring cohesiveness to the organization. Still, you need both hard skills and soft skills to build a company.

Don’t be tempted to partner with or hire only those individuals who have demonstratable hard skills. People with soft skills, especially empathy, dedication, and courtesy, and the ability to make decisions, should always be highly valued. Consider this: A software programmer with killer skills and limited communication skills or no empathy might have a place in the company, but the software programmer with average skills and great communication skills and empathy might be better for the company. You can help teach new programming skills, but teaching communication and empathy is much, much harder.  Which of those programmers is a better fit? It depends on you and your entrepreneurial goals. Achieving the necessary balance for your company is the key.

Partners and employees who prove to be the greatest asset to a founder have a good mix of hard and soft skills, and they make a conscious effort to continually develop both skill sets. Of course, the same can be said for the most successful founders. As a founder, you need to know how to do the work your company does each day, but you should also have strong decision-making skills, empathy for your partners, employees, and customers, and the ability to communicate well, among other skills.

Which skillset—hard or soft—do you lean on most for your business and why? How well is it working for you?


Interested in learning more? Check out these resources:

Learn more about DiSC Assessment here: Everything DiSC.

Take a free DiSC Assessment from the Tony Robbins organization here: Free DiSC Profile. Note: You have to sign up for the newsletter to take the assessment.

Interested in my DiSC Profile? I’m a very high D with a high i (Di). Read a summary about the style here.

100 behavioral interview questions to help you find the best candidates. A blog post from recruiting company, Top Echelon, provides some insights on behavioral interview questions.




Ramsoomair, F., & Howey, R. (2004, April). The Hard Realities of Soft Skills. Problems and Perspectives in Management, 2(4), 231-238.


Photo by Louis Lo on Unsplash

Hiring People Like You

You will have the desire to hire people like you when you’re an entrepreneur.

Leveraging social capital to build your founding team makes it easy to hire people like you. People with your values, your background, and a substantially similar knowledge base can be advantageous for you, the founder. You’ll have a common language, communication may be more comfortable, it will take less time to get those new hires up to speed, and you will have greater confidence in their ability to achieve your goals and objectives (Wasserman, 2012). Hiring people like you might seem to be a smart business choice.

When you hire, people like you are probably hiring them because you have had a good working relationship in the past. You hire people you like and people with whom you enjoy working. You hire them because your experience tells you they are good at what they do. You hire them because although they have different areas of expertise—sales, marketing, or finance—they are likely to have similar backgrounds, networks, and possibly industry knowledge. Arguably, this may give you an advantage at first. Surrounding yourself with people like you when you’re risking everything else to get your business off the ground will provide some comfort. On the surface this seems rational; homogeneous teams may make things a little easier in the beginning but are likely to be the cause of stress as your business grows.

Hiring people like you means you may be hiring people who have not just similar strengths, but also similar weaknesses. Hiring people like you may also mean few will challenge your view of market opportunities, customer targets, or product features and benefits. People like you will tend to see the world in much the same way as you. And this might mean you miss business opportunities because hiring people like you limit your ability to see much of anything different than you may see it. Hiring people too much like you may well restrict your long-term success in business.

Hire people who have different backgrounds, education, and experiences. Hire those with a different world view, a different attitude, and from a different place in the community and the world. Cultivate this diversity within your company because it is this diversity that will help you identify and exploit opportunities for business growth. Hire people whose strengths bolster your weaknesses. Hire people who do things differently than you, who challenge your thinking, who push your buttons, who make you question your decisions. And listen to them. Surprising as it may seem at times, you do not have all the answers. The input of others—people who are not like you—can make you a better in business, a stronger leader, and often, a better person.

When you surround yourself with people like you, you will get a company built in your image. And as enticing as this might sound, it will likely limit your ability to achieve those business goals to which you aspire. Don’t give in to the desire to hire people like you.



Wasserman, N. (2012). The Founder’s Dilemma. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Photo by Andrew Wulf on Unsplash

Are you building the right kind of capital for your startup?

In its original use the word, “capital,” referred to the number of cattle a person might own. The headcount of cattle and total assets of the owner were often synonymous in ancient Greece and Rome, so capital took on the broader meaning of “wealth” until sometime in the thirteenth century when it evolved to mean money advanced to an entrepreneur to start a business (Hodgson, 2014). Wealth created through goods and stock—assets that could be turned into cash for investment—became the primary definition of the word capital for more than 500 years.

In the eighteenth century, industrialization changed the economic structure. Labor, as well as money, became a critical factor in the ability to create wealth. Economist Adam Smith recognized the importance of labor in the creation of new products and introduced the idea that “capital” applies to people as well as things (Smith, 1776). Karl Marx expanded on the Smith’s idea, arguing that “capital is not just things or people, but a social relationship between people, established by the instrumentality of things” (Hodgson).  And the concept of capital grew again—financial, human, and social.

In modern economics, capital is typically defined as an asset that you can use to produce something that is economically useful to a business or an individual.  The word, then, has different meaning depending upon its context (Goodwin, 2003). The most common types of capital are:

  • Financial – referring to an investment that produces something of value;
  • Natural – involving the supply of natural resources in any form that plays a productive process in economic gain;
  • Human – referring to individual education, skills, abilities, and labor used in some combination to produce assets for economic benefit;
  • Produced (Physical) – relating to those physical assets (products or objects) created for sale by applying Human Capital to Natural Capital for economic gain;
  • Social – referring to the goodwill, trust, shared values and social knowledge that, in combination, facilitates a financial benefit.

Even with these different meanings, you still might think capital is synonymous with money. And it would make sense since if you’re a founder, you are spending a lot of time raising and worrying about financial capital.

Indeed, financial capital is essential to get your business off the ground and keep it going. However, human capital is required to strengthen your weaknesses and often to produce a physical product, and your social capital is necessary to attract employees, customers, advisors, and investors (Wasserman, 2012). For those of you that manufacture a product, access to natural capital supports your ability to create produced capital which is the output that generates the revenue necessary for you and your company to thrive.

If you consider the different context in which the word capital can be used, you might begin to reconsider which type of capital should become your priority. Should you still concentrate on building financial capital first? Maybe.

Of all the capital types, it might be more critical for you to first invest in building your social capital. Some argue that social capital—the trust and goodwill you have created with others—might make it easier to raise financial capital, develop supply networks, entice customers, and find employees willing to help you accomplish your goals (Wasserman, 2012). Most successful entrepreneurs will tell you a robust network of support is critical to building sustainable ventures. Your social capital and your personal network is an essential part of your success.

Maybe the ancient Greeks and Romans were on to something when they considered capital to be synonymous with wealth. Perhaps they understood that wealth was rooted as much in the social connection as it was in financial assets. Wealth is measured in many ways, but social capital may well be a good predictor of financial wealth.

What do you think? Is social capital the key to building wealth and financial success?



Goodwin, N. R. (2003, September). Five Kinds of Capital: Useful Concepts for Sustainable Development (Working Paper No. 03-07). Retrieved September 9, 2018, from Global Development and Environment Institute:

Hodgson, G. M. (2014, 4 April). What is capital? Economists and socialists have changed its meaning: Should it be changed back? Cambridge Journal of Economics, 1063-1086. doi:10.1093/cje/beu013

Smith, A. (1776). Wealth of Nations (Annotated edition, 2003 ed.). Bantam Classics.

Wasserman, N. (2012). The Founders Dilemma. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Photo by Arthur Poulin on Unsplash

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