I must admit I had no idea why soft skills were important to my career success when I graduated from college. I quickly realized on my first job at McKinsey how my lack of some soft skills in the workplace was affecting my performance reviews. Here are some examples of what soft skills I was missing at the time.
- Stress Management and People Management Skills – At 22 years old, I was assigned an assistant at McKinsey. I treated her horribly when I was stressed out and I was immature to think I have the right to do so since she worked for me. Needless to say, she was NOT jumping to help me all the time, causing me to nearly miss deadlines.
- Confidence and Communication Skills – I was book smart and had great ideas on projects, but sometimes I was afraid to speak up when there were senior people in the room. I had no idea how to structure my comments and I didn’t have the confidence to think they would care what I thought. McKinsey expected Analysts to voice their opinions. On one project, I only received average performance reviews as a result even though I built the core Excel model that drove our final recommendations.
- Resilience / Office politics skills – I was blamed for something I didn’t do on a project. It took me a few years to move on from this one. My manager succeeded in blaming me because he knew how to play office politics better than me. I had no close support from any Partners. I didn’t realize that it was important to build relationships and allies outside my immediate team.
In some ways, I was lucky to learn these critical soft skills lessons early in my career. Since my experience at McKinsey, I became much more aware of the importance of soft skills in the workplace, dedicated time and effort to practice them over the last 15 years, and saw improving them positively impacted my work reputation and my career advancement. I also conclude three reasons why soft skills are critical to our workplace success.
- Soft skills are the most difficult to master and will separate us from the mass. Almost anyone can learn basic Professionalism and the necessary Work Attitude that are fundamental to career success. Soft skill are the other hands can take years of practice and conscious effort.
- Soft skills are not taught well in school. With hard skills, many schools have rigorous programs regarding how to develop specific hard skills. As long as we are smart and can study hard, we can master the hard skills. Soft skills courses in school are often scarce or impractical taught by professors that may have never worked in the business world. We have to find ways to learn and practice soft skills at work to truly master them.
- Soft skills are what will get us promoted, especially to executive level (VP and above). If we look at any executives we admire today, I would bet that the reasons they advanced to that level is heavily due to their leadership skills, communication skills, or ability to inspire action and deliver results – all soft skills. The secret to succeeding like an executive in any corporation is mastering these 28 soft skills (18 people skills and 10 self management skills)
Besides all these logical reasons, developing your soft skills is also very empowering. The more you can learn about how to be confident, manage upward, play politics, influence others, and etc…, the more control and inspired you will feel about your career progress and direction. The working world is not always fair and we cannot change other’s behavior or outside circumstances. However, we can use our soft skills to control how we respond to adverse situations and take proactive action in our best interest.
It’s never too late to develop your soft skills. Don’t believe me? then read about these three common myths related to soft skills development and why they are not true.
Interested in Learning More?
Subscribe to our free Newsletter – How to Succeed like an Executive.