Yesterday and Tomorrow

Abraham Lincoln shared a short narrative about two wood cutters who decided to compete on who could chop down more trees in a day. The first man started out furiously and decided to chop away without taking any breaks. The second man chopped for a while and then stopped, to sharpen his axe. All through the day, the first cutter did not stop whereas the second contestant regularly took ‘time out’ every couple of hours to hone his axe. Interestingly enough, at the end of the day, the second cutter had achieved twice as much and was half as tired as the first!

Evidently the first man exerted more, made more noise, appeared to be busier – and yet achieved far less, because after a while, he was hacking away with a blunt instrument.

We see the same chronicle repeated in our work lives frequently. In this ever changing and dynamic environment, success has less to do with quantity and more to do with quality inputs. In these days of enhanced competition and budgetary constraints, our biggest challenges are stress, conflict (with internal and external customers) and a kind of revolutionary change.

Albert Einstein rightly said, ‘We cannot solve the problems of today with the same thinking that we used to create them’.

Not surprisingly, we observe an unprecedented interest in the personal growth or self development industry. A casual visit to your nearest book shop will highlight the huge quantum of material that is now being produced in the areas of people skills, leadership, communication skills, stress management, customer service, selling skills, presentation skills, business etiquette, time management, networking, attitude, teambuilding, etc. Books, videos and other tools on these and like subjects are now so pervasively visible across our realm.

Fresh Perspectives

As I enter my 12th year in the soft skills and corporate training business, it has been fascinating to observe the gradual change in mindsets, in a multitude of countries around the world. It is now becoming harder and harder for corporates to deny the importance (or rather significance) of enhancing individual skill levels not just in technical subjects but also in the softer areas as mentioned above. Renowned quality management guru, Suresh Lulla, recently said to me ‘Soft skills is the future’. This is a man who has spent the better part of his professional life researching and teaching the subject of quality management. He has also been featured in numerous reputed business publications as an icon of success in the field of quality.

More now than ever before, companies and individuals alike are looking upon training and soft skill development as an investment rather than an expense. Human Resource professionals acknowledge that soft skills training results in the development of ‘Emotional Intelligence’ and thus significantly appreciates the value of the organizations ‘human assets’. Among professionals today, there is a gradual realization that while IQ (Intelligence Quotient) gets you a job, EQ (Emotional Quotient) gets you fired or promoted. In his book, Winning with People, New York Times best selling author John Maxwell says, ‘In life, the skills you use and the people you choose, will make or break you’. Maxwell is considered one of the foremost authorities on leadership and has written numerous works on this subject. He contends that when one learns to control their emotions and build good relationships with other people, there is very little that can keep them away from success.

Maxwell’s assertion so well elucidates the two primary components of soft skills i.e. self development and relationship enhancement.


(1) A common opposition (and a protest of sorts) to soft skill training programs is – ‘What if I train my employees and they leave to join another organization? Wouldn’t that be a waste of precious resources and time?’

Self made multi millionaire and entrepreneur, Jim Dornan, responds to this objection thus – ‘What if you don’t train your employees and they stay in your organization? How would you like to have the burden of large numbers of unskilled, ill equipped or poorly motivated people?’

So, while the argument to not train your people may have some weight, the alternative is far from pleasant. Retaining a group of untutored, unprepared or apathetic staff is one of the greatest drags on any organization. Following this latest recession, very few companies can claim that their people continue to stay motivated without any deliberate intervention.

(2) Another point of contention is when an organization abstains from training because they believe that they are already hiring skilled (or experienced) personnel. While this argument holds ground at the time of recruitment, it loses its sheen with the passage of time. As is with any discipline, people tend to ‘get out of shape’ if they don’t consciously and continually work at honing their skills.

Thought leader, author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy says, ‘Knowledge in most fields doubles every 3 to 4 years. Thus, an individual who is not deliberate about developing or growing himself / herself, will fall behind.’ Tracy goes on to explain that ‘doing nothing’ or even ‘doing little’ to sharpen your axe will inevitably build the odds against you. Needless to say, your competition will gain significant advantages over you just by further developing their skilled employees.

Delhi based certified coach and Master NLP practitioner, Shalini Verma (founder of The Skyscrapers Academy) says, ‘Skilled personnel are the best candidates for training and coaching. These people already have a base aptitude and thus have a great foundation for developing leadership skills. History has shown that any enterprise will rise and fall on leadership. The quality of its leaders will determine the size and sustenance of the business.’ She goes on to explain that when the head is strong and stable, the tail automatically aligns. So, the skilled workforce, are actually the best candidates for continual soft skill development.

(3) And here’s the great grand daddy of all protests – ‘Training & motivation doesn’t last! My people get motivated after the training BUT things just fizzle out over a period of time.’

My mentor Basil Harris is a very wise man. As an entrepreneur and coach, I have seen him guide a number of people towards the accomplishment of their dreams and goals. He says, ‘That’s right, training & motivation doesn’t last!….. Neither does bathing; and that’s why we repeat it!’

Our logical minds can easily accept that the food in our stomach does not last – we need to repeat it every few hours, the air in our tyres needs regular replenishment, and yes – if we are to lose weight or get fit – just one visit to the gym isn’t going to cut it. It is not uncommon today, to see doctors, lawyers, engineers, tax consultants, etc taking time out to upgrade or just update themselves. So, why should training or any kind of soft skills development be any different?


My good friend and business partner, Swati Pradhan (an entrepreneur and executive coach, based in the UK) says, ‘When soft skill development is driven and encouraged by the organizations senior leadership – trainings are taken seriously and a culture of continual improvement gets automatically imbibed. Inevitably, such a company earns the reputation of being a preferred employer – and predictably, this enterprise now attracts some of the best talent in the industry’.

Maslow and numerous other authorities in the field of psychology endorse that ‘personal growth and self development’ is a strong human need and thus – when an institution starts to fulfill this need – good quality people are attracted to it as fly’s are to honey.

Over time, companies that are consistent with soft skill trainings see –

(a) Growth in turnover

(b) Higher profits & reduced costs

(c) Innovation & higher levels of staff motivation and

(d) Enhanced loyalty

All of the above represents extraordinary levels of Return on Investment.

We live in a world of microwave ovens, instant noodles and crash diets. So, our psyche tends to expect instant gratification from everything. The few that comprehend the concept of delayed gratification acknowledge that soft skills training is not a quick fix. While it’s true that one or two training programs produce little results, it is also true that a regular and methodical application produces enormous tangible and intangible gain.

The moment we can regard soft skills trainings as a long term fitness program, rather than as a one time purchase of machinery, we have taken the most important step towards organizational and personal success.

The Price of Success

The second wood cutter made less noise, spent less effort (and time) and yet accomplished greater results – all because he took the time to sharpen his axe.

In order to ‘go up’, we first need to ‘grow up’ i.e. develop ourselves. And in order to grow up, we need to ‘give up’ i.e. our inhibitions towards self development, relationship enhancement and change.

Soft skills development requires the element of discipline – nothing more and nothing less. Rest assured, the price of discipline is far less that the price of regret.

(Arjun Aiyar is a corporate trainer, executive coach and motivational speaker based in Dubai. He has two training companies – one in India and the other in the UAE. His organizations cater to corporates and individuals by providing training and coaching in soft skills and behavioural areas)

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