Given the declining value of the undergraduate degree while the cost of higher education skyrockets, many employers are finally coming to terms with a skills-based approach to resume reviews instead of requiring a degree. While it takes more effort to identify which candidates truly possess business-critical skills than it does to scan for a completed degree, the benefit is unquestionable. College graduates consistently report that they feel prepared to successfully enter into the workforce in their given specialty, but when those same individuals are surveyed a year later, they report they were largely under- or fully unprepared to succeed in their first job. The content delivered in higher education is typically out-of-date and doesn’t address the unique complexities of business in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous state. For that, soft skills are critical for next gen leadership success. Soft skills are the new Technical Skills.
When it comes to the skills gap, there’s a laundry list of skills next gen leaders need to address. But there are six unique soft skills that will continue to increase in importance over the next 5 to 10 years.
- Data-driven decision-making. On most Skills Gap lists, critical thinking typically holds the #1 or #2 spot. Certainly, critical thinking is important. I would argue that it is no more or less important today than it was 20 years ago. Having sound judgement and being able to think objectively about information has always been necessary in the workplace. Critical thinking skills aren’t a trend; they never go out of style. What has changed, though, is the data itself. With data, analytics and dashboards taking center stage at every level of the business, the need to comprehend data collection and decipher meaning from seemingly unrelated data points is crucial. Making the right decision can sometimes take a back seat to just making a decision. When data is abundant, it becomes easy to fall into an analysis paralysis loop and never draw a conclusion. Being able to draw the line on how much data is necessary to confidently draw a conclusion will be a very desirable skill for next gen leaders.
- Attention control. Did you know there are at least 11 different styles of yoga? Where I live, there’s a yoga studio on every block. Yoga itself isn’t a fad, it’s just the byproduct of a generation actively seeking a way to quiet their minds while the number of platforms to create instant communication grow exponentially. Keeping up with email is now the least of our worries. It’s the text messages, instant messages, slack messages, 24/7 phone calls, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Facetime, and Messenger that form an endless symphony of incoming alerts to disturb our thoughts in an always-on culture. Being able to stay in-the-moment, focus, and preserve mental energy will become currency for career attainment in the coming years.
- Adaptability. When the organization re-org’s the re-org, the individuals who dislike change and prefer to work in an environment with stability and consistency will struggle in the rapidly changing landscape of the workforce. Being agile enough to switch between projects and adaptable enough to do so without experiencing extreme mental stress will benefit next gen leaders. They will be able to preserve their mental energy without becoming overwhelmed by the uncertainty and ambiguity that are byproducts of change. Those who can get comfortable with being uncomfortable will thrive.
- Commercial awareness. Staying on top of recent developments and trends in the business world, and specifically the industry, may seem unnecessary for front line leaders. Naively, they may believe that only the individuals who are responsible for building and communicating a vision need to track who has received investment funding or experienced a change in leadership. But being well read and current on recent events translates into taking a big picture approach to thinking. Individuals who consume and curate content for others are able to draw parallels and insights that are helpful at every level of the business.
- Relationship-building. Being able to identify individuals who are influential within an organization can be a struggle. Titles carry weight, but respect and influence cannot be underestimated. Leaders who can network to build bridges across silos and relationships with subtly powerful players will experience increased reach, shortened timelines for success, and improved career attainment. No one likes a name-dropper, but who you know will determine the pace at which everything else gets done.
- Remote leadership. Working remotely isn’t for everyone. Some people place extraordinary value on the closeness they experience with their coworkers. For those individuals, having a tight knit team of individuals who have relationships inside and outside of work creates as much meaning as the job itself. This presents a unique challenge as an increasing number of organizations take on remote teams to tap into talent outside of their geographical area. From a leadership standpoint, the complexities of directing, coaching, and inspiring a group of individuals who are separated by miles and likely also time zones cannot be overstated. Key leadership necessities like fostering collaboration, building trust, and communicating a vision are incredibly difficult when the main communication channel is email or web conferencing.
Strategic Learning and Development organizations regularly evaluate to identify common developmental needs across the organization. In the case of the 6 underrated skills above, everyone can benefit from developing these skills regardless of proficiency. Like a basketball player practicing their free throws, the muscle memory of exercising these skills has value for every leader at every level.