8 Skills Everybody Needs

Whatever work one does, from start -up founder to pastry chef, automotive mechanic to chief financial officer, it is interesting that we all need the same short list of skills to become successful.

Consultants are often advised to hone and promote fluency in the skills listed here but everyone who works—-business owner, Freelancer, or employee—-taps into these skills on a regular basis. Your hair stylist and the guys who do your yard work use the same skills as your bookkeeper and your periodontist and if they didn’t, you wouldn’t have hired them. Let’s remind ourselves of what we really need to know in life.

Adaptability

Because when we wake up in the morning, we never know what the day will bring. One may learn, for example, that a potentially lethal and highly contagious virus, for which there is no reliable antidote, has entered our country by way of a meeting of executives employed by a prestigious biotechnology company.

When those who attended the meeting returned home and went about their daily lives, some of them infected people with whom they interacted. Very quickly first hundreds, then thousands, of citizens contracted the virus and many died. In an attempt to block the spread of the virus, governors in all 50 states ordered nearly half of commercial enterprises, plus all schools, government offices, libraries, museums and other public spaces, closed. So what did we citizens do?

We adapted as much as possible, that’s what. Grocery stores, the post office and other entities deemed essential were allowed to remain open. Many business owners and leaders found ways to keep their ventures functioning, with revisions.

Millions of knowledge economy workers used their personal computers to work from home, as department heads kept their teams united with videoconference meetings. Schools quickly switched from classroom to online learning (many colleges long ago added online courses).

Retail stores sold merchandise through their already robust e-commerce websites. Personal trainers and fitness instructors contacted their clients and followers and invited them to participate in outdoor workouts. We did what we had to do and we got by.

Creative thinking

Whether or not an out-of- the-box solution is needed, every once in a while it’s fun to bring innovative flair to a plain vanilla task. Whatever the motivation, resourcefulness and creative thinking are appreciated, because the need for an end run or a work-around can be part of daily life. Sometimes, one needs all of that just to get through the morning commute!

Creative thinking is often associated with the arts or architectural design. But during the COVID shutdown wedding planners, who were watching the ground give way beneath their feet, flexed their creative genius to reimagine weddings for panicked brides and grooms. That often meant broadcasting the ceremony virtually and rescheduling the reception for the following year.

Creative thinking can also reach back into the past for an innovative solution. This year, the New York Film Festival, barred from using shuttered movie theaters, will debut its contenders at drive-in theaters in the Brooklyn and Queens boroughs.

Credibility

Dependability, judgment and expertise are the three pillars of professional credibility. These attributes add up to trust and trust is what gets one hired and motivates customers to give referrals. People do business with people they like. They do more business with people they trust.

Communication

As it is often said, it’s not necessarily what you say, but how you say it. You’ve got to know how to talk to people.

One of the best ways to communicate with someone is to not talk (much), but tlisten. Use nonverbal cues to demonstrate that you are following the narrative. Ask questions to clarify or confirm what you think you’ve heard. Pay attention and let others know that you value them and their opinions (even when you see things differently).

Decision-making

Here’s the reality—-when a big decision is on the table, we seldom have access to as much information as we feel would be helpful as we weigh the possibilities. It is frustrating, to be sure, and we’ve all been there. The thought of taking the wrong path makes the stomach queasy.

But at some point, one must make a move and travel to the left or right, say yes or no, or leave well enough alone. Or, one can elect to put the matter aside and revisit it within a certain period of time.

If a decision carries impact, it cannot be ignored. The fear inspired tactic known as analysis- paralysis, where information is considered and reconsidered ad nauseum, is counterproductive. The best way to improve the quality of information to use as a guide for wise decision-making is to ask the right questions.

Problem-solving

Nearly every purchase one makes is intended to solve a problem, from a bottle of juice (thirst) to calling Lyft (door2door, on-time transportation). Whether the items your company sells are products or services, you’ll make more money when you 1.) understand the business you are really in, by thinking through the underlying motive for the purchase, beyond the obvious, and 2.) design your marketing strategies and sales pitch to reflect item #1.

Teamwork

Many hands make for light work. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Teamwork and collaboration lie between those warring poles and a real professional will persuade others to join him/her in the sweet spot.

Someone must step up and take the lead on a project of any magnitude. Those responsible can draw up an action plan, complete with due dates. Milestones or a mid-point check-in will help to keep everyone on schedule and ensure that mistakes have not been made.

If everyone holds up their end and the project is completed on time, you’ve got a team. If a mistake is discovered and corrected in a timely fashion with the help of your colleagues then congratulations, you’ve got a high-functioning team.

Time management

The ability to prioritize and organize, enabled by an action plan that includes target completion dates, are the three pillars of time management. Understand and get agreement from stakeholders and decision-makers regarding mission- critical tasks. Confirm that team members and other collaborators have the time to produce what has been asked of them within the desired time frame.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark, February 2019. Choreographic Objects, installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston by William Forsythe (a choreographer who works with world- class ballet companies)

What’s Your Problem-Solving Style?

Problem-solving skills are hugely important,  in our business and our personal lives.   How we approach and resolve problems provides revealing insights into our character,  our priorities and our insecurities.   What does your problem-solving style say about you?  Check out these four examples and discover what your clients,  colleagues,  friends and family see.

The Blamer

Chances are you’ve had the misfortune of encountering this type before,   known to attack first and check facts later.   Whatever goes wrong has to be someone’s fault,  meaning someone other than him/herself.  Rather than addressing the problem straight away,  this individual becomes defensive and wastes precious time accusing others of various sins and failings that  “allowed” the problem to occur.  

Playing an aggressive blame game is the weakest and most detrimental problem-solving style.  Feelings get hurt and resentments breed as a result.  Blamers are immature and irresponsible.  They shift the onus to others and are unable to admit that perhaps they screwed up,  or even acknowledge that the adverse event that gave rise to the problem was random and beyond anyone’s control.

Analysis paralysis

These folks talk rather than act.   They’ll call a meeting to discuss the problem.  They will then schedule another meeting at which time a committee is selected,  to further study the problem.  Perhaps a report will be written,  to document the problem and identify possible solutions.   Over-analyzers may be thorough researchers,  but they are procrastinators in disguise.   They would like to solve the problem,  but are incapable of taking action.  They’ll check the facts,  but moving forward and crafting a solution anytime soon is not in their DNA.

Quick fixers

Polar opposites of the analysis paralysis team,   the Quick Fixers are ready to right the wrong right away.   Yet they take a slapdash approach and fail to think things through or do the research that would reveal the root cause of the problem and allow for the development of a credible solution.   Part of the problem may be solved,   but because a proper examination was not made,   they  (or you)  may have to deal with it all over again.   Any of us may resort to a quick fix when short of time,   but for others half-baked   “solutions”  are a way of life.   Maybe they have ADD  (Attention Deficit Disorder)?

The Listener

 Listeners have the most highly developed problem-solving skills and it’s their style we ought to emulate.  Listeners are willing to truly hear  the details of the problem.  They ask questions to elicit relevant information and they cut through the drama that problems often cause by remaining as calm as possible and keeping their wits about them,  as they confirm what has transpired.   Because they hear what must be heard,  Listeners are then able to realistically assess the problem and get a sense of who can best resolve it,   whether it is the Listener him/herself,  or someone with specific expertise.  

 Listeners are able to analyze the problem because they do the research and think things through.   They are able to act quickly to resolve a problem,  but they will not be reckless or half-baked.  Most of all,   Listeners will not succumb to the trap of blaming,  even if the problem was caused by someone’s negligence.   Instead,   the Listener will take steps to correct the oversight,  learn from the mistake and move forward,  wiser and better prepared.

Thanks for reading,

Kim