On this episode Josh speaks with Dennis Doran, author of “Soft as Steel”. They discuss the importance of soft skills in the workplace.

Dennis has successfully served the construction industry for over 30 years as a contractor, consultant, strategic trainer & facilitator, development coach and public speaker, bringing a multi-faceted perspective to people and organizations.

With his unique entertaining and dynamic style of presenting, Dennis invites audiences to ponder on the fundamental strategic importance of soft skills or people skills to building relationships and making a substantial profit as a business.

Most recently, he wrote a book titled “Soft as Steel”. A book dedicated to Soft Skills Education.

In today’s episode you will learn:

  • What do we mean when we say Soft Skills?
  • Why do we need to learn more about “how” we are with people in business and personal life?
  • What do we need to learn?
  • What is the mindset needed to improve?


Narrator:             Welcome to “Cracking the Cash Flow Code”, where you’ll learn what it takes to create enough cash to fill the four buckets of profit. You’ll learn what it takes to have enough cash for a great lifestyle, have enough cash for when an emergency strikes, fully fund a growth program and fund your retirement program. When you do this, you’ll have a sale ready company that will allow you to keep or sell your business. This allows you to do what you want with your business, when you want in the way you want.

In Cracking the Cash Flow code, we focus on the four areas of business that let you take your successful business and make it economically and personally sustainable. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning, and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable and allow you to be free of cash flow worries.

Josh:                      Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick. You’re at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. Today, my guest is Dennis Doran. I met Dennis recently at a Steve Farber event and got talking and I said, “Dennis, you have to come on my podcast.” He said, “Why? I said, “Because you’re teaching blue collar business owners how to use what he calls soft skills. Those are really important.” Instead of me yammering on about what soft skills are, let’s bring the author in themselves and he could explain to us what we’re talking about.

Hey, Dennis, how are you today?

Dennis:                 Josh, I’m well, thank you very much. It’s really good to be with you today.

Josh:                      Yeah, thanks so much for joining us. I have a question for you. I think I know what you mean by soft skills, but what are soft skills?

Dennis:                 That’s a great question. Soft Skills really aren’t skills. What they really are, are qualities, traits, attributes, and in some cases, some folks might say the expression of an individual’s values, but not really skills. There’s one central skill that is fundamental to being able to enable folks that you are building relationships with getting to know to learn about you and that is communication.

Your words and your actions taken together are how people come to understand what your soft skills are. By using communication, by talking to people, by acting in a certain way that demonstrates that you possess certain qualities, attributes or traits or again, that you value certain things in terms of how you relate to people in your life.

Josh:                      Whenever I say soft skills, I always get a lot of pushback from people especially people in the advice business. They say, “Well, we’re not doing soft skills. Soft skills are mushy, and nobody wants to buy soft skills.” What do you say when people say that to you?

Dennis:                 Well, again you know from meeting me and hearing me talk a little bit that I spend most of my time dealing with contractors and other individuals involved in the building process, also known as the construction industry. What I say to them is that our ability to execute the job to get a job done whatever that job is, whether it’s inside the construction industry or outside involves dealing with people that we rely on to help us perform work, deliver service to a customer, as well as the customers and others. The job itself.

I’ll use a simple example. Someone could be a very, very, very good carpenter could be have a reputation as being the best carpenter people have ever known. But they might want to say, but he doesn’t really do well with people, or he’s hard to get along with. He’s got a short temper.

Josh:                      I actually have a name for that.

Dennis:                 What is that?

Josh:                      The brilliant jerk.

Dennis:                 The brilliant jerk. I’ve made a bar that use it in other presentations.

Josh:                      Well, that’s funny because I borrowed it from I think, Patrick Lencioni, if I’m not mistaken.

Dennis:                 I think that says it well. So I say to these folks, that soft skills are the difference between just getting the job done and being successful in serving whoever it is you’re doing the job for. Because whatever business you’re in, and again, I’m in construction, some people say, “We’re just contractors. We build stuff or we’re just engineers so we, we design things, or we’re just architects.” That’s all true, but that just relates to the part of a person that speaks to their heart skills, their technical skills, the competencies that are involved in doing the job in a very specific way. Soft skills or all the other things that have to do with a person interacting with another person.

I had a person at a very high level in an organization in our industry once poured out a meeting. We don’t need no F in soft skills. I learned about him saying that in a conversation. I was able to help them understand that it’s not enough just to get the job done. It’s not enough just to think that you are doing right by a person in a relationship that’s within your community or otherwise. It’s important for you to be able to make sure that you do the things that are necessary to understand the person that you are engaged with building a relationship with.

That’s really what life is all about is building a series of sustaining relationships in all parts of our life. Doing that in a way that allows the individual you’re interacting with to get to know you through your words and your actions. For you to be interested in them by asking them questions, by observing their behavior, getting to know them, so that you can find a basis for expanding building and then going on to value each and every relationship that you build in your life, whether again, it’s in your personal life or at work.

Josh:                      I have a little conversation with you about words and actions because I get into this a lot. My belief is that you can’t build a great company unless you’re values lead period end of conversation. I often will have this conversation with business owners about their values, whether you say a value is a core value. I know for a fact that and know the company well, that is really not a core value. It’s an aspirational value. So if I go out and I say, “Here’s a core value of my business.” But I’m not walking that talk, what happens in the company, when you do that?

Dennis:                 I guess the simplest thought is that you are demonstrating if you happen to be a person in the role of being a leader in that company, to your personnel, to your employees, to your team, what you’re doing through your actions, and your words is contradicting. That value is not walking that talk, not being able to point to that poster on the wall where we have our core values and say, “Here’s how I practice those values.

Here’s what you can see in terms of what I do and how I do it.” How I am with all the people I interact with demonstrates that this value is important to me. That it does frame how I conduct myself, if it does, in fact reflect how I conduct myself then one of the greatest things that can come from that and it’s so important and so difficult for people to understand, the amount of time taken to achieve it. That is to be able to trust someone, to trust that leader, to trust that person that works for you, to trust that customer.

Trust is a very, very fragile soft skill. To say someone is trustworthy is the soft skill spin on that. That means that they are a person that has demonstrated through their words and their actions, that they can be trusted. That they are ethical, that they do the right things. All those elements fall into that. One of the traps that a lot of companies continue to fall and again, I was a consultant many years ago, doing a lot of work in the area of helping companies write mission and vision statements and identify their core values and ultimately produce beautiful posters or things that went on their website.

That’s all they were, were beautiful posters are things that went on their website, when it came right down to brass tacks. If the CEO of the company came out of the financial side of the house, it was all about the numbers. One of the things that I say, every time I’m speaking with people with regards to what I have a passion for and that is this whole notion of soft skills, the skills involved in dealing with person to person. That is, if you’re in a business, these are very, very important to practice because the better relationships you have, the more success you’re going to enjoy.

Success in a business, at least in one regard, ultimately, is measured by the bottom line. I’m an accountant by education, as you know, Josh. I started out I was a CPA for a while. I was all about the numbers that I understood the numbers well, but as I grew older, I got more mature and I got more sensible, I realized that it’s not just about the numbers. Again, you get good numbers or you get the best numbers you can get because you paid attention to demonstrating to the people that work for you and the people you do business with. That they can trust you that you’ll provide the highest level of service. In the construction world that means that you’ll do the job on time on budget, and safely. That’s what all boils down to.

Josh:                      Again, bringing up Patrick Lencioni because I think his book, The Advantage is actually bring it on this topic as well as your book which is Soft as Steal by the way. In case people are interested in going to Amazon and buying it. I assuming get it there or your local bookstore. But at any rate, one of the things he talks about is aspirational values. What I like to do with the clients I have who have values, which I don’t think our core like to label them as aspirational values. They stick them on the wall, because then they can go to their employees ask for help to make that into a core value. Is that something that makes sense to you?

Dennis:                 It does. Actually, there’s two parts that makes sense. It’s based on true understanding and belief on the part of that leader, that is something that they want to aspire to, and they want their business to aspire to. If that’s the case, then the idea of saying to your employees, this is what I really want us to be. These are the words. This is what I think is so important. I need your help to accomplish that. Just saying that out loud, is a great quality, the leader. I mean because the greatest leaders and you read it probably as many books or more than I read on leadership, great leaders don’t assume that they are the smartest person in the room.

They don’t assume that they can simply tell people, direct people, give people orders. They understand that they need to gather around them the best people. Lead them, which means motivating and inspiring them to try to achieve that aspirational value or the vision for a company and then go about doing that on a day to day basis. Great leaders don’t do it by themselves. If they’re trying to do it by themselves, they’re not leading. They’re simply doing. Doing is vastly different for a leader than expressing what your vision is, talking about values, labeling them, or captioning them as being aspirational things that are really that we want to stretch for, the owner reach for. If we’re reaching, that means we’re putting extra energy and effort and the leaders job is to fuel that energy in order for the people that work with them to achieve the success that the company can achieve.

Josh:                      One of the things that I’ve been, actually this has been my new quasi obsession is the word vulnerability. Because I think that leaders don’t make themselves nearly as vulnerable as they should. My experience has been the more vulnerable I make myself, the more support others give me and the more authentic I become as a person. Do you talk about vulnerability with the people you work with?

Dennis:                 I do. But again, I think interesting things about that word is that as the cases with so many words, I’ll take a quick little side trip to say to you that in the book that I’ve written, I talk about qualities. The way that I talk about them is the way that I view the idea of what is vulnerability. I ask people that I talk with what I refer to as conversation partners to tell me what a word means to them.

What does it mean to you? Don’t Google and give me a dictionary definition. I could take care of that part, but what does it mean to you? And more importantly, and in many cases, I was successful in getting this. Tell me a story that illustrates how this particular quality was important in to a particular situation to a particular point in your life or your career, etc. So when you think about vulnerability, I said, what does that mean to you? Some people might just say, “Well, it means that I’m not afraid to be proven wrong.”

Well, that’s an abject and extreme reaction to that word. Vulnerability can mean, should mean for a leader, the fact that they realize that they do not have every answer. They do not know everything. It’s simply not possible for a human being to say that unless they have the benefit of being either an egomaniac, sociopath or something else, which is not necessarily a good way. So vulnerability is simply saying that I can’t do it by myself. I don’t think I can. I don’t feel like I can.

Again, I talk about feelings when we get into the whole realm of soft skills. I get into the body of knowledge around emotional intelligence, which is about feeling, about feeling things. Leaders feel things and one of the things they feel at times is vulnerability. But it’s more from the perspective of fear than it is from understanding that I don’t have the entire picture. I don’t have the entire answer. I need help. It’s okay to ask for it.

Josh:                      I used to own a foodservice and vending company so I come out of the blue collar world. We had 90 employees. They were literally no job besides mine that I really knew anything about. One of my sayings I came up with was, “You are the expert at your job so act like it.” I think when you give people permission to be experts at their job, they actually run with it. There’s another thing which I really liked what you just did about values, by the way is that you put a clarifying statement around what you believe the value means to you. If you’re building a value statement for your company, you need to have a clarifying statement.

The clarifying statement needs to be what does the owner mean when they say for example, personal response ability or vulnerability, or simplification or financial independence? Those are all values that pop up on a semi regular basis when I do this exercise with folks. So any rate, that’s been my experience over the years, do you have anything to add to that?

Dennis:                 Maybe just one thought, and that is that I want to be sure that in the stream of our conversation, folks listening understand my experience in my exposure primarily in the construction industry. If you take that descriptor away, has been dealing with leaders who are the leaders of companies that are comprised of five full time employees that they keep year round. In the warmer weather months, they may peak up to 20 or 25 people. In other words, small blue collar businesses and when I talk to them about leadership, some of them they don’t have an operational understanding about what it means to be a leader.

I simply explained to them, there are two parts to your life every day. If you’re the leader/owner/project manager/CFO, etc. You wear many hats every day, but you still have to distill a couple aspects of who you are to the people that that you provide management, direction and leadership to and is it leading is about how you relate to them as people. How you build the relationship so you can rely on them and they rely on you to provide them a clarity of understanding with regards to, what is good look like?

What is good service? What’s going to keep our customers happy? Not just because the nails are all driven in straight or because we do it really nice tight corners when we’re putting on wall coverings. What does it mean in terms of how the customer feels about us? We want to make and I’ll steal from my mentor, Steve Farber, he tells a story about an engineer and going into a house and talks about the whole notion that if you treat people really well pick their customer and they love you.

They’ll overlook some of the work content aspects if they’re not consequential. They’ll overlook that. He takes it to a humorous, but get again an experienced basics streaming talks about the guy said, “Well, you could probably blow the house up and they still love you because you treat them like a good person.” So leadership is not just for big companies, not for just for big organizations. It’s part of who the person is.

They need to understand what it means. Understand that that leadership is all about communicating to the people that they’re involved with, what their values are, what their qualities are, what their expectations are, and do it in a way that is done well from a communication standpoint so there was always understanding on a mutual basis so that the messages that go back and forth that go beyond the simple, “Okay, go to this house and put up this drywall on this room” or whatever it maybe.

In a simple task sense that they understand other aspects of how they are while they’re doing their job, how they are with themselves. Because if you’re not paying attention what’s going on with you and this gets into a whole another area that we could probably spend a half hour talking about. This whole notion of how your how your brain works and how emotions are involved in the actions, both words and actions that we take every day. They’re not an understanding about themselves.

They’re not on a really sound footing, to be able to even have a basic capability or an inclination first, to pay attention to what’s going on with other people. So if you walk into a customer’s house, or onto their job site or into their office, and you don’t pay attention to the fact that the expression on their face suggests that just they just got off the phone and must had a horrible, horrible phone call is that’s upset them emotionally. You just go charging in there with whatever it is you want to talk about. You’ve damaged that relationship because you weren’t paying attention to things that gave you information to use to be that much more interested, caring and attentive to the person you’re trying to do business with.

Josh:                      What you just described, by the way, the typical person you work with five full time employees, 25 during the busy season. That’s a typical business in the United States. There are far more of those and there are others big businesses. In my experience, the biggest skill that group of business owners needs to learn is how to be an effective delegator, which you’re talking about is step one. Before you could even think about becoming an effective delegator is you have to be an effective communicator.

Dennis:                 Yes.

Josh:                      To me, that makes perfectly good sense that in fact, I’m going to add this to what you need to learn before you learn to delegate. I’ve been saying for years to be a great delegator, you need to learn how to trust and there’s a book called The Trust Formula, which I want everybody in the world to read. In there’s a great formula for how you build or kill trust.

The other is a tolerance for mistakes because if you don’t tolerate mistakes, you’re never going to learn how to be a good delegator because everybody makes mistakes. When your people make it, you want to say what did you learn not what kind of dope are you. Adding that to be a good communicator, there’s no way in the world that you can delegate well, if you can’t communicate well. Dennis, unfortunately, we have reached our time limit for the day.

Dennis:                 Okay, bye. Bye bye bye.

Josh:                      Now, before you go running off someplace, I want you to talk about your book for a minute and how people can find it.

Dennis:                 Well, thanks, Josh for giving me the opportunity for a commercial announcement as we end our time together. I did have the privilege of writing a book that’s entitled Soft as Steel. I wrote it primarily for the audience of the construction industry where I spent most of my career, but I’m finding as other people outside the construction industry, read the book. I’m so honored and pleased to hear them say that it’s a book that everybody ought to read. I wrote in a very, very straightforward, conversational style.

I relied on, in many cases, the words of the people I had long conversations with, to try to convey the message around the importance of soft skills, what they are, and how to develop them. It’s a workplace book in a sense because there are activities to perform in it. I think it’s a good read. I encourage people to pick it up if they want to preview it, then go on Amazon and take a look inside and read a few pages of it in the Amazon format. If you want a copy of it, and I’d be delighted for any of your listeners to order a copy. Go to my website, which is dennisdoranspeaking.com and order it there.

If you’d order it there, I will personally package it, address it, take it to the post office and even sign it. So you will get an author signed edition if you ordered off the website, dennisduranspeaking.com. How about that for a commercial announcement?

Josh:                      I bet they can find you there if they want to have a conversation also, Dennis.

Dennis:                 Absolutely.

Josh:                      Okay. I also have an offer for you, too. One of our many programs we have as we call Cracking the Cash Flow Code. Before you can crack the cash flow code, you have to find out where you are on the road to financial independence from your business. In three years, I’ve been doing this thing on a yellow pad which I call the four boxes of financial independence.

I finally made a little bit of an app so about seven minutes in the quiz, you can find out whether you’re on the road to financial independence or not. To do it, it’s truly simple you just go to thecashflowcode.com. All one word, thecashflowcode.com. You click on the big orange button. You spend seven minutes taking the quiz, and you’ll find out whether you’re on the road to financial independence or not. This is Josh Patrick. We’re with Dennis Doran. You’re at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.

Narrator:             You’ve been listening to the “Cracking the Cash Flow Code” where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?”

If you’ve liked what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 extension 102. Or visit us on our website at www.sustainablebusiness.co. Or you can send Josh an email at jpatrick@stage2solution.com. Thanks for listening and we hope to see you at Cracking the Cash Flow Code in the near future.

Topics: good communication, soft as steel, leadership qualities, sustainable business podcast, Sustainable Business, soft skills, growing relationships, hard skills, construction industry, dennis doran

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