Career Management — The Hard Thing About Soft Skills
You are great at your job. You are a magician in Excel, SQL, Python etc. You moonwalk on Java and Figma. As they say in Benin “only you one”. You are the one that builds and maintain your company website. You can interpret data like no other person. This is great. As we can see, you are good with technical skills.
A point comes when you are better than the best. In fact, you are the epitome of the phrase, you cannot “improve on perfection”.
However, most people while acknowledging and being aware of these do not want anything to do with you. They respect your talent and skills but want to be 100 kilokitres (according to Zebrudaya) from thee. That means, you are high on hard skills (technical stuff) but low on soft skills (interpersonal skills).
In my career, I have worked with people like this (high on hard skills but low on soft skills). Some people think that geniuses are flawed, hence they call them “flawed genius”. Some people feel they are proud and haughty. While some feel, they can’t see beyond their noses. Many excuses, just for one person? Indeed !!!
What could be the matter?
It is either these fellas with strong hard and technical skills are people that knowledge has puffed up, or are insidiously proud. What most usually diagnose, is that these fellas have poor people skills. Some managers will say they do not have people management in their DNA.
A good example are those that went to college but just faced their academics. They just never learned any other thing. They were not in campus fellowship. They were not in any social club (Junior Achievement, AIESEC etc). They only did one thing — study. Unfortunately, they are out of school and realize that they can’t get along with anyone. They blame others but everybody else knows they are the problem. They are used to getting their way….because in school when they spoke no one else bother. They were that good.
Unfortunately, life after school presents you with myriads of daily problems that need to be solved on the go. NEPA, mechanic, gateman, water pumping, grocery shopping, living with others, coping in a strange city, etc. You have to deal with all these issues at the same time. However, in your younger days, you had not built the skills to deal with these things hence, they appear strange. In order to wade through them, you muscle your way through them. Then you realized that your muscles were not that strong. You have never learned to talk nicely to people in order to get things from them. Welcome to the trenches !!!
As a young career, person, I will strongly advise you to build your hard skills as much as possible. Turn that Excel table on its head. Combine Canva, Prezo, and PowerPoint to make your presentations. Analyze data like there is no tomorrow. You have that covered.
At the same time…concurrently…..invest in soft skills. Learn how to communicate. Learn how to manage the idiosyncrasies of your boss, contemporaries, and managers. Learn how to serve with dignity. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has as its credo and motto “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” Learn how to manage access. You will get privileged information — what do you do with it? How do you manage it? How do you manage transient power?
Learn to be personable and amiable. Learn to convey “hard” information without being acerbic and vitriolic. Learn how to manage perception. Learn how to talk the room and spot the head of the pack.
About all, have an inquisitive mind.
The quality of questions you ask determines the answers you get.
It takes wisdom to know whom to ask.
Your aim in the career game is to grow. Right.
But no matter how talented you are, if you cannot work with others, you are self-selecting yourself for stagnant growth. This is because as you grow into management, it is less technical and more people management. At strategic levels, you will no longer be the foot soldier, you will be the guy to set the strategy and work through people to get things done.
Let’s face it, even the great tech entrepreneurs who were high on hard skills but low on soft skills had to learn that to build a company you cannot do it without others. Bill Gates had to bring in Steve Ballmer. The OG, Steve Jobs had to bring in Tim Cook. The eccentrics knew that they could not use their eccentricity to connect with others that could turbo-charge their vision to a scale that would be phenomenal. They brought in those that could. Google and Facebook followed that script because it works.
How do you work through people that you do not get along with? There is no way to do that than to learn how to cope and deal with homo sapiens. That is where soft skills come in. Humans must work with humans to make things happen. Unfortunately, there is no other way.
Voila…you see what I saw…in the legendary words of Chief JB Zebrudaya.
I have quoted JB twice today. It shows you the generation I was born in.
Hasta la vista.
In the month of November 2022, I and a few fellas would be handling career sessions and sharing what we know, have seen, and have lived out. The aim will be to give you a headstart or enable thee to course correct, if necessary.
Topics would include extensive conversations on :
Starting Your Career
Stages of Career
The changing face of work
Managing Up & Down — Bosses, Peers & Subordinates
Office Politics & Me
The Knowledge Economy
Remote Work, Flexiwork & Me
Transiting to Entrepreneurship
I will be holding a weekly seminar on the topic — “Managing Your Career In The Digital & Knowledge Economy”. Would you want to be a part of it?