The most successful entrepreneurs are chameleons. They are able to use hard skills in programming, developing, and building products that are functional, beautiful, and easy-to-use. But hard skills are not enough as we become more and more entrenched in the never-ending stream of data coming from the web. Hard skills need to mesh with soft skills.
What are soft skills? The description does not bely confidence, since we're trained to associate the terms soft and weak in the workforce. No, soft skills refer to non-cognitive skills and traits that you don't learn in a normal classroom setting. Skills like teamwork, attitude, work ethic, non-academic problem solving, and more.
Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette wrote extensively of the four archetypes of manhood, and in essence describe a person in wholeness (Brett McKay has a great primer on this topic over at The Art of Manliness). A whole person is able to access these different personalities when the need arises, either in self-service or the service of others. For all creatives, developing these additional competencies bring wholeness to your entrepreneurial journey. Let's begin together. The Storyteller
Throughout history, builders and storytellers have been in high demand. Frank Lloyd Wright and Shakespeare both have left their indelible marks on the world. Their singular genius was enough to make their work spread. Today, the world belongs to those who can build a great product, and tell a compelling story to go with it. There all kinds of ways to use content to tell a story, but written word continues to be the most consumed medium.
Here's the trick in business, as I learned from David Wenzel and Donald Miller. As a storyteller must show the characters in conflict, and their growth through the challenges. Transparency is a big factor in showing your startup's growing pains and the ways you've overcome them. If you're working with clients, help them see the growth in their own obstacles, and ways to push through and become a more resilient company. Storytelling is quite metrically-challenged, but labeling goals, conflicts, and tactics helps tremendously.
Entrepreneurs who write killer content to go with their hard skills have a leg up on the competition from either side. Hackers who don't write and writers who don't code are both at a disadvantage compared to the hacker storyteller. This is a critical step for "wantrepreneurs" who are ready to commit and turn pro.
How to Write
In a frustrating and liberating way, simply do it. You don't need to share it with anyone, but being able to tell compelling stories in a concise way is powerful. To start, write for 30 minutes each week, and here's the best prompt I can give. Write about what you would have wanted to know when you began... It could be when you began college, your first job, first company, current company, first code. The Mediator
The ability to mediate and diffuse conflict is one of the most difficult and valuable soft skills you can possess. There are two different types of scenarios in resolving conflict. You are the mediator between two people, e.g. two employees having an argument. Or you are one of the parties in conflict, and attempting to manage the problem without bringing in a third party.
As a leader, playing the role of mediator will be one of the most-used tools in your skill set. Failing to intercede in the conflict of two workers can result in a toxic work environment for all of your employees. In fact, by failing to have the courage to face to situation as a leader, you are displaying two of the most destructive tendencies of leaders. Passivity and the hesitation to intercede in uncomfortable situations.
Your co-workers are not bad people, and as the mediator you must remember this. They are simply dealing with their conflict in an unhealthy way. You have the opportunity to facilitate a healthier process.
How to Resolve Conflict
TEAM is an easy to remember and effective strategy. Here are the steps you take.
Talk it out: Allow each person to tell their story without interruption.
Everyone counts: Reflect back the pain and frustration of each person, to affirm their feelings and be sure you have heard them accurately.
Affirmation, don't discourage: If you are acting as the mediator, guide those in conflict to affirm each other for the good work they have done in the past. This step can be difficult, but really helps humanize the process and takes some of the frustration out of the room.
Make it fair: If there is something tangible on the line, like sales leads, use a unbiased metric to divvy up the leads, e.g. conversion rates, time with company, or a different metric. The Hermit
The soft skill of focused attention is of increasing importance today. People are faced with a flood of information, and the opportunity for distraction is ever-present. Brains actually do not process multiple tasks very well, despite popular opinion. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, shows that when a brain is task-switching, completion can take twice as long, while your error rate also jumps by 50 percent. In a professional setting, your ability to stay focused for blocks of time is vital to the speed and quality of your work.
The idea is not to hole up in a cabin, but to take steps which help narrow your focus and increase your productivity. Even working in an office or at home, we must at times become like digital hermits and block out distractions.
How to Focus
The best way to begin is by setting a timer for 20 minutes and simply working on one task. The amount of time won't affect the entire day, and is a nice sample size for seeing how often you are distracted or interrupted. Consider using a social media blocking software like Cold Turkey, Self Control, and Anti-Social. The software is for people who can't help themselves, which honestly is most of us. The Presenter
How well a person speaks is generally viewed as a measure of extroverted and introverted, or vocal vs silent leader. Dan Pink accurately shows the answer lies somewhere in the middle, what Pink terms the ambivert personality. The soft skills of presenting, speaking, and persuading all play a critical role in professional development.
Steve Jobs was an expert at all three skills, and skillfully wove them together to tell the story of Apple and how the company and its products would change our lives. Apple is in fact an ideal case study of how the product and the story work together seamlessly, made even more intriguing now that Jobs has passed away.
To reach wholeness, you will need to be able to present your ideas to venture capitalists, bosses, co-workers. The way you craft the pitch to show the plan's viability and benefits is critical. Here's the trick, and knowing this tip makes everything more difficult and easier at the same time. Your purpose must be true, and it must contribute to the benefit of all, not just you.
How to Present like a Pro
Choose your topic and focus. Know your work inside and out. Pick a story that will resonate. The way you design your slides will make an impact, and is worth the time. For example, I normally spend ten hours on slide design for a one hour presentation. When you're ready to speak, practice in front of someone. You'll be surprised at how nervous you can feel in front of only one person!
I have put together a few difference-making tips for speaking and presenting, and here are the best:
- Look your audience in the eye.
- Use statistics for proof.
The fifth face of the entrepreneur is the teacher. This skill may come naturally to you, but passing on your knowledge to others can be a stressful prospect. After all, if you teach people your secrets and methods, won't they become your competition?
Maybe. But let's ask a different question. Do you work on a scarcity mindset or an abundance mindset? If you believe there is enough to go around, then teaching and helping others is no longer stressful. Becoming the authority in your niche is of tremendous value to you personally and professionally. Think of a mentor or teacher you had in school, or when you began working. Their advice and coaching was of tremendous value to you and many other people. In a way, teachers are what help push our world into the next stage of development simply because they are willing to generously give their knowledge away.
As the teacher, new readers and students will always be coming your way, because you're willing to share your knowledge. The best programmers don't always have the same authority as the programmer who is able to skillfully teach their craft to others. If you truly believe in the greatness of what you're doing and the work it is, the feeling of scarcity will vanish.
How to Teach Others
The first question to ask is what tasks or skills do people ask for my help with? We all have talents that we can teach people, but it's important to recognize what specific skills people ask for your help with. Maybe you're the go-to guy in your company who teaches new hires the programming work flow, or the optimal way to streamline tasks and project management. Recognize these signals and seek out opportunities to include more people, in person or online. Here are three tips to remember when you're teaching others.
- Be willing -- the student is nervous, and a willing, attentive instructor will help her feel at ease.
- Be patient -- the student will make mistakes, and it's important to remember all the mistakes you have made on your journey. Point out wasy to improve and try again.
- Be encouraging -- we want failure to become a mechanism for growth and development, not an obstacle that cannot be overcome. Encourage students to learn through their failures and consider a part them a part of the process. People who won't make mistakes will rarely make anything at all.
What about you?
Why do you think these skills matter and how can you implement them in your work?