Emotional intelligence and the soft skills it encompasses have proved invaluable to some of the world's biggest companies because at their core they support the most valuable resource – people.

A Navy serviceman turned one of the world’s bestselling business authors, Tom Peters is a witty man with a simple message; If you take care of your people they will take care of you.

Best known for his book In Search of Excellence, which he co-authored with Robert H. Waterman Jr, the 76-year-old recently visited Perth to present The Excellence Dividend at AIM WA’s signature leadership seminar.

As one of the world’s most influential and respected business thinkers over the past 40 years, Mr Peters demonstrated his relentless pursuit of excellence by speaking to event attendees in a profoundly honest way that was straightforward and engaging.

Sharing his simple, actionable guidelines for success, the once-in-a-generation global thinker said age had brought with it perspective.

“There is some beauty about being 76, I don’t give two hoots about repeat business,” he said. “Because, the only thing you will be remembered by is the people you help.”

Quite simply, Mr Peters’ mantra is all about putting people first.

Highlighting the importance of good business management, Mr Peters echoed the thoughts of Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson, known for his position that business needs to give people enriching, rewarding lives or it is simply not worth doing.

“In today’s business environment, this message is more important than ever,” he said.

Mr Peters said good leaders developed their people.

“When most people talk about leadership, they focus on authenticity and vision,” he said.

“But what they need to start talking about is what leaders do on a day-to-day basis: hire people, listen, evaluate and promote.”

Spanning four decades, Mr Peters said the majority of his work could be summarised in just six words, “hard is soft. Soft is hard”.

“Soft skills are actually hard, because it’s all about relationships,” he said.

Some of the most important skills for ensuring business success are unquantifiable.

Mr Peters identified Google as a leading organisation that understood the value of soft skills. In 2008, the tech giant launched an internal research project dubbed Project Oxygen.

“Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) expertise came in dead last,” he said. “The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills.”

Some of the soft skills Mr Peters was referring to included being a good coach, communicating and listening well, possessing insights into others – including their values and points of view, having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues, being a good critical thinker and problem solver and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

“Those traits sound more like what one gets as an English or theatre major than as a programmer,” he said.

In 2017 Google conducted a second project called Project Aristotle, which further supported the importance of soft skills. The data analysis revealed the company’s most important and productive ideas came from ‘B-teams’ comprised of employees from successful executives through to middle managers with few professional accomplishments.

“Project Aristotle shows the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills,” Mr Peters said. “Equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy and emotional intelligence – and topping the list, emotional safety; no bullying.”

Mr Peters noted many companies invested too little time and money in their soft-edge excellence. The three main reasons for this mistake included: the hard-edge is easier to quantify, successful hard-edge investment provides a faster return and top chief operators and board directors speak the language of finance.

In addition, Mr Peters said people could look at leadership and management in two ways.

“You can look at it as a pain in the ass or the pinnacle of human achievement,” he said.

“Mid-to-long-term success is no more and no less than a function of one’s dedication to and effectiveness at helping team members grow as individuals and as contributing members to an energetic, self-renewing organisation dedicated to the pursuit of excellence.”


Tom Peters

  • Roles Started out as a civil engineer; Partner at McKinsey & Company; Co-Author of In Search of Excellence.
  • Studied Cornell University; Stanford Business School; holds honorary doctorates from institutions ranging from the University of San Francisco to the State University of Management in Moscow.
  • Worked United States Navy (1966-1970); White House/OMB drug-abuse advisor (1973-1974); Over the last 38 years he has given 2500 presentations in 50 American states and 67 countries to over 5 million people. His 17 books have sold more than 10 million copies.

Penelope Thomas is a Journalist at Seven West and is a writer for 'Leader', AIM WA's magazine for members.