At the beginning of each year we see articles with reflections and forecasts, the “trends and what’s coming”. As a counterpoint, I’d like to review some foundational skills that have timeless value that may be overlooked in our race towards the future. The good news is that these professional soft skills don’t cost money and there are many free resources on the Internet. Let me suggest five foundational skills to consider over the year ahead.
Almost any business problem can find its origin in a communication breakdown. Effective communication is the most foundational skill for any person or any enterprise. Almost everyone thinks he or she is an effective communicator, but many have lost sight of the fact that listening is more important than speaking.
Julian Treasure in his TED Talk, 5 Ways to Listen Better, states “we are losing our listening”. We have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth for a reason. It seems that far too many folks get the proportions mixed. There are a wealth of good materials on effective outward communication (speaking, presenting, writing), but to be truly effective, seek to develop active listening skills.
It is sad to say, but professionalism has atrophied significantly. How a person conducts themselves has a tremendous impact on critical relationships in the workplace. It also impacts your effectiveness with team mates, your managers, your customers and all your stakeholders.
There are components of emotional intelligence, but most simply stated, professionalism doesn’t mean much more than respect. Exude self-respect and show respect toward others - you will be better received and more effective. Learn, practice and model professional conduct.
Business acumen is an understanding of your business, how it makes money and how it can stay in business. Many people working in training departments do not possess the basic business language and literacy of the organizations they support. This is not acceptable. You should be a business person first and a training person second. Understanding your business gives you the insight on what drives it and the best way to support it. Only then can your efforts have the maximum impact on the most high-value processes of your organization.
The amount and complexity of work is increasing as is the number of people you must interact with to perform your work. To successfully manage a multitude of activity streams requires having solid time management skills.
Time management skills include the ability to prioritize tasks so you focus the bulk of your energies on the most important tasks (there is a strong relationship between effective time management and developing your business acumen). It can also include effective delegation and learning when and how to appropriately say “no”.
Security (personal and corporate)
With the cyber attacks of Anonymous on high-profile websites, daily reports of malware in networks and on mobile phones and rampant “over sharing” compels me to mention security as a core skill you must possess.
When email first became the primary business communication tool, many users had to learn what types of material were appropriate (or not) to send in an email. I see many of the same mistakes being made today in social media.
Remember that any email, tweet, or status update you make leaves a footprint. It can be saved, stored, shared, and used against you personally, or against your organization. Social engineers depend on this as their primary source to gather the data needed to hack into systems. Train yourself to become your own front line of defense to protect your reputation, your career and your organization.