The Combination of High Touch and High Tech are Imperative: How Soft Skills Contribute to Leadership Success

Virtually every business talk or news story today emphasizes the revolutionary new technological advances that will transform the job landscape. And it’s true – technologies such as artificial intelligence, robots and digital platforms are already enhancing the way we work.

But often lost in the focus on these shiny new objects, is the need for workers to nimbly adapt to new environments, learn new skills and understand how to best lead and communicate with the workforce.

High tech must be matched with high “touch;” in other words, the entire workforce – from CEOs to employees – need to continue to leverage and hone their soft skills to ensure the success of their companies.

That’s why the Fogarty Institute recently held a seminar to help our entrepreneurs and partners better understand the value of soft skills and why it’s important to build a culture and hire team members who excel in these areas.

Fogarty Institute CEO Andrew Cleeland kicked off the forum with an overview of soft skills, which was followed by an interactive Q&A with Paul Yock, MD, founder and director of the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, who shared his personal insights on the importance of soft skills in leadership.

The seminar wrapped up with a dynamic panel discussion on “Soft Skills in Building Teams, Fund Raising and General Operations” that included Surbhi Sarna, CEO and president of nVision Medical; Fletcher Wilson, founder and CEO of InterVene; and Gabriel Sanchez, co-founder and CEO of Enspectra.

Focusing on the most important soft skills

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people never forget how you made them feel.” This famous quote by Carl Buehner sums up why soft skills remain critical in the workplace.

Soft skills, those character traits and interpersonal skills that help us interact and authentically and effectively connect with others, complement hard skills — your knowledge and occupational skills — and are essential to become an effective leader.

While soft skills are many, varied and subjective, a few of the outstanding ones that have created the best startup cultures and leaders include:

  • Situational awareness
  • Critical thinking
  • Sense of calm and level headedness
  • Integrity and genuine caring
  • Courage and boldness
  • Humor
  • Communication: listening, educating and inspiring

Paul Yock, MD, is prime example of someone who has honed these skills. While he is most commonly regarded for his many successes as an entrepreneur, inventor, interventional cardiologist and co-founder of several institutions, including the department of bioengineering at Stanford and Stanford Biodesign, he is the first to share that technical knowledge will only take you so far.

During the educational seminar he provided many examples of how soft skills can enhance leadership and inspire others to focus on the company’s mission, secure in the knowledge that they are being led by someone with both talent and integrity.

“One of the biggest takeaways from all the interesting people who have surrounded me over the years is that there is something to learn from everyone,” he said. “But ultimately, authenticity is a stand out for me. Our field has a lofty mission to help patients, but unless you are authentic and strive to really connect with those you are helping, you won’t succeed.”

Soft skills don’t come naturally to many, and they can’t be learned in a short seminar. But they must be part of your continuing educational efforts.

“Cultivating these qualities entails a life-long process of learning; I myself am still learning. But when you combine a humble attitude with your cumulative experience, you can really accomplish what you set out to do,” Paul concluded.

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