The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They'd Learned Sooner

The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They'd Learned Sooner

by Peggy Klaus

ISBN: 9780061284144

Publisher HarperBusiness

Published in Business & Investing/Skills, Reference

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Sample Chapter

Control yourself

* Knowing yourself is as important as knowing how to do the job.
* There's no such thing as work-life balance, only trade-offs.
* Years of loyalty can work against you.
* Listen to your gut—it's full of data.
* No risks, no rewards.
* Get out of your own way.
* Learn the honest truth about integrity.
* You have to be good to be lucky.

A few years ago, an HR executive at a Fortune 500 company said to me, "Peggy, I can't believe how many people believe their bosses wake up in the morning thinking, 'Gee, let's see what I can do for you today.'" Her point was this: Chances are, nobody will ever care about your career more than you do—except for, well, maybe your parents or spouse. This means you must take responsibility for managing your own career—don't even think about leaving it to anyone else. I'm not saying that those around you at work aren't interested in helping you succeed. But their focus is mainly on themselves—their own projects, trajectory, and careers.

And similarly, your focus should remain squarely on you. Even when you don't work for yourself, managing your own career means wearing the many hats of an entrepreneur. Start thinking like the CEO, marketing manager, sales force, HR director, head of product design, and talent coordinator of your own company—a company of one, which is you.

Why is it so important that you take the reins when it comes to career management? First, gone are the days of job security. Mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, and international competition have done away with that. The average working American will now have between ten and twelve jobs and three to five careers during his or her lifetime. Second, people across the board—including your boss, his or her boss, and the HR director—are being asked to juggle more and more assignments, often combining the responsibilities of two or three people into one job. Most of the folks you assume are thinking about your career simply don't have the time or the energy, and you certainly can't expect them to be psychic when it comes to knowing what you want for your future. Third, those who let their careers "just happen" or expect employers to orchestrate them will end up disappointed. Unfortunately, most graduates are completely unprepared for their first encounter with these harsh realities—especially given that some of them have grown accustomed to e-mailing their college papers home for their parents to edit!

Whether just starting out or well on your way, one of the most important things you can do is take responsibility for yourself—your career, your goals, and your own behavior. Doing so begins with a very healthy dose of self-awareness and a commitment to self-management. Indeed, both are at the foundation of soft skills mastery—you'll see them time and time again throughout the rest of the book. In the lessons presented in this chapter, you'll find a variety of soft skills at play, including engaging in self-assessment on a continual basis, being personally accountable, creating a work life that makes sense, taking risks, listening to your intuition, and attracting luck. I'll also touch upon another soft skills area that will never go out of style: old-fashioned honesty and integrity.

Knowing yourself is as important as knowing how to do the job.

"Climb every mountain / Ford every stream / Follow every rainbow / Till you find your dream." Sound familiar? Sometimes when attending professional conferences, I feel like I am in a never-ending stage production of The Sound of Music. Motivational speakers shout from on high, "Follow your passion! If you think it, you will achieve it." I swear, if I hear one more person say something like that, I'm going off a Swiss alp. Which is probably why I relate so well to people who tell me how they wish they'd realized sooner that being passionate about something doesn't automatically mean you'll have the talent or aptitude to be successful at it. And even having all three—passion, talent, and aptitude—still doesn't guarantee success. One way of finding your bliss, your life's work, or simply something you won't mind spending eight to ten hours doing each day is to get to know yourself really, really well.

From my front-row seat, there's nothing soft about taking a hard look at who you are. After more than a decade of coaching people on all rungs of the career ladder, I find time and time again that the ones who have never taken an inventory of themselves wind up doing things that they aren't successful at or are miserable doing. They haven't thought enough about what kinds of tasks they like and dislike, which talents and interests they want to incorporate into their work life, or how their strengths and weaknesses might impact career choices. It's pretty simple, actually. Each of us has special gifts that are better suited to certain kinds of careers than others. If you seek out a line of work that's a good match, you'll more likely flourish. If you pursue an incompatible line of work, you'll more likely struggle. In order to learn where you'll thrive the most, take the time to get to know yourself better. Think of it as buying a special type of insurance that will make you less vulnerable to heartaches, anxiety, stress, and losing time or money. That said, knowing what you are best suited doing workwise can be tricky. It's not always clear where your strengths lie from the start, so it can take some time and experience to figure it out. And sometimes we can learn the most from paying attention to our weaknesses. This was the case for thirty-eight-year-old Marta.

In the early years of her career, Marta changed jobs so often that it started to raise eyebrows and make potential employers think she was uncommitted, flighty, or someone who bored easily. In fact . . .


Excerpted from "The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They'd Learned Sooner" by Peggy Klaus. Copyright © 2008 by Peggy Klaus. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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