All Articles Leadership Workforce Soft skills development: a hi-tech solution to a low-tech need

Soft skills development: a hi-tech solution to a low-tech need

A series of prompts from generative AI can help leaders simplify how their team learns new skills, writes Julie Winkle Giulioni.

4 min read



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You don’t have to look far to find an article or warning about the half-life of the workforce’s current capacity and the urgent need to upskill, reskill and pre-skill workers to future-proof both their careers and their organizations. It seemed like hyperbole when, just a couple of years ago, the World Economic Forum predicted that half of all employees would need reskilling by 2025. But, given the pace and unpredictability of change, this is quickly becoming our reality. And this reality is not lost on employees. Gallup research finds that 48% of American workers would switch to a new job if it offered skills training opportunities.

With today’s focus on digital transformation and the proliferation of technology, many surmise that the skills required for success now and into the future will skew in that direction. But, counterintuitively, seven of the 10 most necessary skills identified by the World Economic Forum are what we commonly refer to as soft skills, marked below with an asterisk.

  1. Analytical thinking.
  2. Creative thinking.*
  3. Resilience, flexibility, and agility.*
  4. Motivation and self-awareness.*
  5. Curiosity and lifelong learning.*
  6. Technological literacy.
  7. Dependability and attention to detail.*
  8. Empathy and active listening.*
  9. Leadership and social influence.*
  10. Quality control.

Of course, anyone who’s tried to learn — or teach — the asterisked skills above has discovered the hard truth about soft skills. They tend to be the most challenging to develop. They also tend to be the most important to long-term success. We might hire for technical or functional expertise, but these human skills engineer career resilience and endurance over time. Acquiring these critical skills, however, has only become more challenging for some as a result of pandemic-inspired social distancing as well as diminished interaction resulting from remote and hybrid work. Some organizations resort to unusual strategies, like sending employees to charm school.

Unfortunately, many leaders don’t have the resources for such creative solutions. They must produce results on a budget, at scale and at the speed of business. They might be able to arrange for training (an essential element of the equation), but skills like listening and influence don’t suddenly manifest, fully formed and elegantly executed overnight. They require attention, application, intention, reflection and coaching — things leaders (particularly those who are not co-located with team members) may struggle to support.

Enter generative AI, a leader’s unexpected soft skills development partner. Used strategically and with care, large language models can serve as an influential thought partner, behavioral nudge and even coach to those committed to developing new skills. 

Here’s how it works. 

After employees receive a baseline of learning around the high-impact soft skill (understanding what it is, why it’s essential and how to execute it in a way that aligns with the organization’s culture and business outcomes), they turn to AI for reinforcement. Simple requests posed to ChatGPT or similar tools can spark in-the-moment opportunities to plan for, reflect upon and evaluate critical skills. Here are sample prompts based on the World Economic Forum’s seven top soft skills.

  • Creative thinking. Suggest three ways I can bring greater creativity to my role as a XX today.
  • Resilience, flexibility and agility. Provide a 5-item assessment that I can use at the end of the day to evaluate and reflect upon how resiliently, flexibly and agilely responded to the challenges I faced as a XX.
  • Motivation and self-awareness. As I start my day filled with XX, what question should I reflect upon to deepen my sense of self-awareness?
  • Curiosity and lifelong learning. What behaviors could I practice today as a consultant that would build greater curiosity?
  • Dependability and attention to detail. Tell me a story of when a lack of reliability or attention to detail resulted in awful outcomes.
  • Empathy and active listening. In my role as a XX, what can I do today to let others know I empathize and actively listen to them?
  • Leadership and social influence. Create a 10-item self-assessment that will help me evaluate and improve my leadership and social impact as I execute my role as a consultant.

Try a couple of these examples out right now. You’ll be surprised at the richness and relevance of responses. Prompts like these generate responses that — while not always perfect — offer a low-cost, scalable way for employees to own their learning and keep key concepts top-of-mind until they become second nature. This kind of technology-supported approach democratizes soft skills learning. It expands the reach of busy leaders, and an employee’s self-directed efforts enrich the quality of coaching conversations. 


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