The workplace and the workforce are undergoing massive change. Much of the focus on “future-proofing” your career skills centers on building your technical skills. And of course, you need to develop digital literacy and be up to date on technology.
But the future of work is human, and building your interpersonal and leadership skills is what will help you thrive in the workplace in 2023 and beyond.
Here are 5 skills you’ll need to build to give you an edge in the new world of work.
You can’t solve a problem with the same mindset as it was created, to paraphrase Albert Einstein. And there are multiple problems to solve inside companies that have to grow and innovate in a challenging economic time. To help your company meet these needs, and to stand out inside your company, you need to build creativity.
Creativity is not something you’re born with or without, and you don’t have to be an artist or a writer to see yourself as creative.
First, build your creativity by making time for it. You can’t be creative when you’re in back-to-back-to-back meetings. Audit your time and see if there are some meetings you can jettison to help you have white space, the fuel of creativity.
What should you do in that white space? Seek out people who think differently from you. Read widely to infuse you with new ways of thinking. Then proactively see if you can apply models and techniques from what you learn to your current environment.
For example, one of my clients, the CFO of a startup, needed to get the employees to quickly pivot from an orientation to grow revenue to a more cost-conscious focus. She’d been having regular meetings with the CMO, and she realized that the new mandate for the company was the same as any marketing campaign. With the help of the CMO, she created a slogan and a promotional strategy, and she was able to quickly get the company rallied around the new focus.
People like to repeat the adage that the only constant is change. You know what? It’s true. Your ability to embrace reality and adapt quickly will set you apart since most people cling to the past.
To be agile, you need to be able to accurately assess what’s going on, think through different scenarios, come up with creative solutions, and take action.
Your first step, and one that people often have the hardest time with–is to accept things as they are. There are a lot of elements in the workplace that don’t seem fair. Someone gets credit for your work. A new competitor comes in with a better cheaper product that you didn’t anticipate. A global pandemic shuts down in-person work and requires everyone to collaborate remotely. The faster you can accept a certain situation, the more quickly you’ll move to think through what to do.
Next, practice acting nimbly before change happens by developing your own “what if” scenarios. They can be broad and organizational: “What if a new product comes out that is better than ours?” They can also be very personal: “What if I get a new manager I don’t like?” Think about how you’d respond and what actions you’d take. Research proves that even a few moments of thinking about a scenario will help you respond to it.
Finally, take action. Rapidly. Think about small steps you can take, sometimes down multiple paths. For example, if you get put onto a project you don’t enjoy, you can decide that you’ll proactively learn more about the field and see if that helps you enjoy it more. You can also see if you can take on some of the responsibilities in this project that you were hoping to build your skills in. For example, offer to manage the budget if you’re trying to boost your financial acumen. Alternatively, you can talk to a few senior executives to see if they have room on their projects instead. You always have more than one option for how to handle things, but you’ll only see them if you develop your agility skills.
Empathy gets a bad name because it feels like the softest of the soft skills. But if you think about empathy – the working definition of which is as looking at something from the other person’s point of view – it’s actually an incredibly potent weapon to persuade people, to motivate people, and to get people’s discretionary effort.
People think of empathy as emotional, but you can think of it as analytical instead.
One of the best ways to ignite empathy is to ask questions.
If you have trouble connecting with or understanding a colleague, ask yourself, “What’s going on with them that I can’t see?” You may not know, but you can imagine they’re dealing with things at home.
Or: “If I were in that person’s shoes, what would I be thinking and feeling?” If you’re a senior executive, things may seem obvious to you that a junior person completely misses. Put yourself in their shoes and fill in the context. Similarly, if you’re a junior person communicating with a senior executive, you might be talking on a very tactical or project-level basis. Step back and think about how that person views the world, and what their top priorities are to be a better communicator with them.
When you have tough news to deliver, ask yourself, “How would someone feel if they got this message from me?” When you tell someone that you’re killing the project they’ve worked on for the past year, for example, you might think of it as a simple business decision. But for them, it can feel like they’ve wasted a year of their life. When you think of it from their point of view, it will help you frame the message in a way they can understand and get behind.
Empathy theoretically makes you a better person, but it definitely makes you a better leader.
When you stay calm, you are able to respond. You don’t merely react. You can then make good decisions and keep your focus on your goals. This may not be in anyone’s job description, but staying even-keeled helps you stand out simply because you’re effective and easy to deal with.
Emotional regulation can be hard to develop, but once you have it, it’s easy to live with. You can develop equanimity by maintaining perspective. There are ups and downs at work, sometimes intense ones. Recognize that the issue you’re having with some coworker or policy is temporary. Maintain perspective by reminding yourself of other issues you had in the past, and how they got resolved. You’re still here. This too shall pass.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore problems. You should also advocate for your projects and address tough topics with coworkers. But you can do so in a measured way, maintain empathy, and ultimately deal with everything more effectively if you’re not getting overly triggered.
Whenever I talk to leaders, they always wish their employees took more ownership. Proactive self-motivated and persistent–these are adjectives that leaders consistently apply to their most valued employees. It turns out that these are all traits of entrepreneurs. So cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset is a useful differentiator for you.
To think like an entrepreneur, ask yourself these questions:
What if I had been the person who founded the company/product/service line? Where would I want to take it, and how would I do it?
What would it look like to do more than necessary?
What would add the most value here?
When you ask yourself these questions, find ways to answer them, and then take action, you’re showcasing self-determination, a proactive stance, and a desire to take ownership. The people you work with and for will want to give you more opportunities when you show up that way.
Building these skills will help you get ahead in your current role. And in an economic environment surrounded by uncertainty, these skills will give you career insurance just when you need it.