Your People Skills, Your competitive advantages

Someone from my LinkedIn network posted the quote of Robert Kuok- the richest man in Malaysia: “When I hire people, I look for great attitude. I don’t look for MBA or PHD.”

I liked the quote. Normally, I’d have just liked it and moved on. But, the quote is a perfect fit to the theme of my upcoming book. Thus, I wrote the following comment: “It’s a great strategy. I forgot where I read but John C Maxwell, a renowned leadership expert, suggested that employers should first look for affinity- whether the person has the right mindset, and attitude to fit within the corporate culture- followed by character, and then skills necessary to do the job. This shows that soft skills (intangible) skills are more important that hard (technical) skills. The temptation, however, for many leaders is to look for skills, and qualifications first.”

Following the above comment, in the comment section, someone posted a very good question: “Well, why then waste all the energy in going school trying distinguish yourself. I would have a better attitude if I don’t owe all that money on student loan.”

This is a legitimate question. If we don’t put Robert’s quote in context, it looks like he undermined the importance of skills. He is not. You cannot just hire a very impressive bystander to do heart surgeries in your hospital. You are not crazy enough to give your BMW car for a guy who isn’t a mechanic but full of positive attitude and people skills. You got my point…

Here is my response: “Good question. Why wasting our time, energy, and finance to go to school if hard skills like accounting, engineering, IT, surgery, and hundreds of other technical skills we need to perform our primary job description aren’t important compared to attitude and character? Going school and acquiring these skills is mandatory. They are the bare minimum. We need them to get into the door. But, they cannot help us succeed without the right soft skills like positive attitude, and other people skills, which many schools neglect to offer to their students. Employers would like to make sure that the new hires fit into the corporate culture. Therefore, if they have hundreds of candidates all of whom have PhD in physics and they need one person, most employers go for the one who has the right attitude and character who would be the right fit to the existing team than the one who has the highest GPA. The most important thing to professionals is to master our craft (technical skills) plus invest on our soft skills to become skillful in our communication, EI, problem solving, decision making, teamwork, etc. These intangible skills, which we may not get from formal education, are our competitive advantages to succeed in any career/environment….”

Well, I thought you might be interested to read this interesting conversation.

By the way, how do you rate your people skills (1 to 10, 1 being very poor, 10 excellent)? If you gauged your soft skill competency below 8, you need help. Whatever time, resource, and energy you may dedicate to improve your soft skills, it’s worth your investment. It compliments your technical abilities. It also empowers you not only to survive in this very competitive era, but also to excel and thrive.

Whether you are a professional, business owner, politician, activist, community organizer, what have you, you need to work on your people skills. Your technical abilities cannot take you far; they cannot separate you from the crowd in your field/industry.

Just so you know, your zeal to serve isn’t enough!

Assegid Habtewold (AZ) is an author, consultant, coach, speaker, and trainer at Success Pathways, LLC ( He facilitates soft skill workshops for some government agencies, technology and research companies, and non-profits. If you’re interested to empower your people with key soft skills to experience harmony, synergy, low turn over and conflicts, and so on, you may contact us via email: (and/or and we’ll be happy to work with you to create customized workshops right for your team.

By the way, Assegid’s upcoming book, which will be published soon, addresses the very theme touched in this blog. We’ll announce on our website when the book becomes available. Stay tuned!

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