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Radical Innovation: Success Without Academic Boundaries: Part 3

Updated: Oct 29

Soft Skills: The Often Overlooked Ticket to the Top

What makes you unique? Looking back over the years consider those who cheered you on, those who recognized your boundless potential. We all have our own cheerleaders. In my childhood, these champions were Linda and Pam, two of my mom's closest companions. While many of my mother's friends were caring and supportive, Linda and Pam saw something special in me, the potential for greatness. They believed in me.

As I ventured away from college in pursuit of adventure and perhaps a bit too much excitement, I deviated from the path they envisioned. Over the years, I've occasionally pondered the disappointment they may have felt.

However, I've since course-corrected, and despite the miles that now separate us and the passing of my mother, Linda and Pam continue to cheer me on from the sidelines of social media. These two women will always be near and dear to me.

Chances are, you too have your personal cheerleaders who recognize your unique potential. I believe such individuals possess a talent for discerning our inherent soft skills. Skills that seem to decreasing in prevalence and increasing in value. Soft skills define how well we interact and communicate in various social and professional settings. Hardwired or learned, they underpin effective communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, essentials in an ever-changing job landscape. These are your "people skills" and "relational skills," the qualities that artificial intelligence cannot replicate.

A recent SMHR article titled “Employers Say Students Aren’t Learning Soft-Skills in College” points out that “the classic four-year college education, with its emphasis on critical thinking, debating, viewing issues from several angles and communicating clearly, was designed to teach these skills. Yet nearly 3 in 4 employers say they have a hard time finding graduates with the soft skills their companies need.” Recent studies show that up to 97% of employers say that soft skills are either as important or more important than hard skills and equate the failure of new hires almost exclusively to a lack of these competencies. So, it’s likely not an overstatement to say that mastering soft skills are one of the top tickets to ‘success without academic boundaries’.

Let’s take a look at which specific skills may be considered foundational, the skills you’ll likely need to build upon as you strive to move up, and a handful of advanced skills that C-suite leaders are expected to have mastered. I have also included some suggestions for those who wish to explore, build, and sharpen these aptitudes.

Fundamental Skills: 100-level life on life’s terms proficiencies

“Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” – Conan O’Brien

Companies not only value, but often reward skills such as communication, self-motivation, teamwork, and optimism. These are the essentials for anyone who wishes to be looked upon as an asset.

Communication is the foundation of effective relationships, written, and face-to-face communication! I learned early in my career that apps like Grammarly are a must unless you have access to a personal editor. Sending out written correspondence that includes grammatical errors is a red flag for a lot of business professionals. Generative AI tools such as ChatGPT are proving to be great writing assistants as well, the key word there being 'assistant'. I suggest using LLMs to clean up your writing not do all the work for you or risk the authenticity of your work coming into question. If you struggle with verbal communication the first step is putting the phone down. Building soft skills often requires getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Get creative and join a debate team. Welcome any opportunity to speak publically from making a toast at a birthday party to sharing your story at church or in a small group. The more practice you can get when it doesn't count, the more ready you'll be when it does!

Self-motivation is one of the quickest means of promotion and larger opportunities. While many employers frown on the lone wolf, taking the initiative is sure to earn accolades and respect. Just as many large organizations are beginning to value short-term strategic planning over the traditional 5-year model, setting short-term achievable goals is a great way to generate personal, forward motion. You have to be willing to dive in and accept a challenge!

Teamwork is what makes your company's dream work. Even Arnold Swartznegger scoffs at the idea of being a self-made man. We all need allies, mentors, and collaborators. If you struggle with team activities try team projects outside the office or volunteering. Joining the advisory board of a local non-profit is a great way to cultivate synergy and make a positive impact on the world.

Optimism, having and giving off a good positive outlook is a sure way to become someone others are happy to see walk in the door. As Stephen Hawking said, “When you complain, nobody wants to help you.” Making a nightly gratitude list is a surefire way to cultivate optimism.

Intermediate Skills: "Don't limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do.."—Mary Kay Ash

Self-awareness is the cornerstone of personal growth. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses allows you to make informed decisions but it's really just the tip of the iceberg. How do others perceive you? What happens to the mood in a room when you enter? What is your go-to emotion when challenged? Two of the most effective tools for cultivating self-awareness are meditation and willingness to receive and truly evaluate feedback from those around you.

Negotiation and Conflict Management skills are vital in both professional and personal life. Learning how to navigate differences and find mutually acceptable solutions is a paramount skill. Mentors can be a great resource on this front. There are also lots of great podcasts like Refine & Grow, Inside the Strategy Room, and Leadership Matters that are overflowing with best practices and practical tips on conflict resolution.

Adaptability is the ability to thrive in changing circumstances. It's a crucial soft skill in today's dynamic work environment. “Smart people learn from everything and everyone, average people from their experiences, stupid people already have all the answers.” ― Socrates So, enter every new challenge with a beginner's mind. Ask lots of questions then ask yourself 'What can I bring to this project or this situation?'. To develop adaptability, you can find resources on adaptability skills at

Time management is essential for productivity and work-life balance. Effective time management helps you achieve your goals efficiently. Learn to prioritize as well to be okay with saying no. Make a list of three to four top priorities. If you have more than four priorities at any given time, you really don't have any priorities. What you have is a list of busy work. Tim Ferris offers great advice in his book Tools of Titans 'if it's not a hell yes, it's a no'. Take a deep dive into learning how and when to say no with me in this blog post

Advanced Skills: the soft skills you need to get in the door may be the opposite of the soft skills you need when you start to manage people.

Emotional Intelligence refers to the capacity to recognize, understand, express, manage, assess, and employ emotions for effective and positive interpersonal communication. The key to achieving success, building strong character, nurturing happiness, and attaining lifelong accomplishments lies in possessing a well-defined set of emotional competencies. We constantly learn from others. In the realm of emotional intelligence curiosity is king.

Change Management is essential for adapting to evolving circumstances, and the ability to lead change effectively. My favorite podcast on this topic is McKinsey and Company's Inside the Strategy Room.

Cultural awareness is a fundamental component of cultural competence, according to the National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC). It serves as the initial and essential building block, without which acquiring the necessary attitudes, skills, and knowledge for cultural competence is nearly impossible. Cultural awareness plays a pivotal role in developing and maintaining a healthy company culture.

If you want to someday lead the way, you must accept that you will fail along the way!

Failure Acceptance/Improvisation Capacity centers around the ability to learn from mistakes and not only accept failure but also embrace it as a crucial stepping stone to success. Embracing failure means viewing it not as a setback but as an opportunity for growth and innovation. This mindset encourages individuals and organizations to adapt, improve, and develop creative solutions. Many successful companies have embraced this philosophy, and some even have mottos that promote a culture of embracing failure, such as:

Google: "Fail forward." Google encourages its employees to view failures as a part of the innovation process and a chance to improve.

Amazon: "Innovate and Simplify." Amazon values experimentation and encourages employees to take calculated risks, fostering a culture where failure is considered a learning opportunity.

Microsoft: "Fail fast, fail often." Microsoft emphasizes rapid experimentation, understanding that not every idea will succeed, but each failure provides insights for future success.

Facebook: "Done is better than perfect." Facebook promotes a culture of speed and agility, prioritizing progress over perfection and encouraging employees to embrace imperfection.

Soft Skills, in the pursuit of radical innovation, these often-overlooked soft skills are your secret weapons, guiding you to the top of your field. Stay tuned for the next part of this series, where we'll explore the power of mentorship in further developing these essential skills.

Your unique journey toward success continues, with soft skills you are now equipped with a compass. Keep pushing forward!

If you would like to connect please feel free to email me at or send me an invite to connect on my favorite platform LinkedIn. Godspeed

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