5 soft skills that will help you succeed at work and in life
Resilience, problem solving, system thinking, networking, and moonshot thinking — Alena Laurynovich, Chief L&D Specialist, and Ahniya Asanovich, Talent Manager, Leadership Development & Growth team, identified and described soft skills that will increase the efficiency of, and demand for, specialists, especially managers, in the modern tech world.
Resilience is the ability to adapt, recover from, or bounce back from setbacks, failures, and disappointments. According to psychologist, Susan Kobasa, and Professor Salvatore R. Maddi, there are three elements that are essential to building resilience:
- Challenge — Resilient people view difficult situations and setbacks as challenges; not as paralyzing events. They accept that change is part of life, and they approach their problems with an open mind and a willingness to learn from failures. Instead of obstacles, setbacks become opportunities for personal growth.
- Commitment — Resilient people possess a strong sense of commitment that isn’t limited only to work. Resilient people have deep and meaningful relationships with others, and causes that they care passionately about. These commitments and causes give them a reason to keep fighting, and to persevere when faced with adversity.
- Personal Control — Resilient people spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events over which they have control. They do not spend time worrying about things that they cannot change or control. Because they put their efforts where they can have the most impact, they ultimately feel empowered and confident.
To become unstuck and truly grow, embrace a learning mindset and focus on discovering and developing your deeper authentic self. When we cultivate a desire to learn and grow, we also give ourselves permission to fail, because failing is learning. The goal becomes learning for our own personal growth, and not for prestige or praise.
One of the ways to build resilience is through a process called cognitive restructuring. Basically, this is a way to reframe our thinking about negative events and adopt a more hopeful outlook. Part of the process of cognitive restructuring is critically reviewing the events in your life and asking yourself three questions:
- “Is this problem something I have direct control over? In other words, can I change it?” If you can change it, then take the necessary steps to do so. Sometimes, the change is simple. Sometimes, the change is slow and requires time, energy, and commitment to a process of self-discovery and personal growth. If, however, the problem is caused by your attitude, personality, communication ability, or emotional intelligence, then you owe it to yourself to address it, because it is something that only you can change.
- “Is this problem something that I did not cause, but that I can influence in some way?” If the problem is caused by your boss, your spouse, or your colleague, you cannot change how that person reacts or behaves, but you do have control over how you choose to respond. You can, for example, choose to diffuse their anger or to see the humour in the situation, thus influencing the outcome.
- “Is this problem a force majeure – a force of nature or something that is completely out of my control?” If we take stock of the things we stress about, we will discover that most of the time, we worry about things that we cannot control. We have no control over the weather, fluctuations in the economy, the traffic etc., and yet we obsess over these things and waste valuable energy. That energy could be better applied to figuring out how to spend more time on the things we can control. You accept that change, upset, and difficulty are part of life, and that your current situation will change eventually. When faced with a situation that is not in your control, adapt to the best of your ability so that you are able to spend your time and energy on your commitments and on learning as much about this challenge as you can.
5 mechanisms of resilience development:
- Resilient beliefs: evaluating life changes as less stressful based on engagement, control, and risk acceptance.
- Building motivation for transformative coping.
- Strengthening your immune response through mental and physical mobilization.
- Enhancing responsibility and self-care (resilient health practices).
- Seeking effective social support that fosters transformative coping through the development of communication skills.
Creating any solution requires problem-solving. People who thrive are always mentally prepared to deal with challenges, even if they initially do not have the ideal amount of information, resources, or time to solve the problem.
Below is a linear progression of a problem-solving sequence that everyone needs to go through:
- Deciding to engage/not with the problem.
- Collecting information: from a variety of sources, making sure you’re using credible and relevant information).
- Processing the information: defining, analyzing, grouping, comparing, and synthesizing it to end up with information in a digestible form.
- Abstracting the information: linking different parcels of information in meaningful ways, distilling them to concepts, looking for patterns, coming with hypotheses, and testing them.
- Applying learning to generate a solution.
- Applying learning to solve the problem.
- Solidifying your understanding into a well-developed approach and seeking to understand where else you can apply it in your work.
Often, however, we will need to cycle back and forth between these phases when dealing with complex problems. Complex problems involve a great degree of uncertainty and ambiguity and little control over the situation. They involve too many unknowns and too many interrelated factors to reduce them to rules and processes. There is no algorithm that will tell us how to respond. We should not be discouraged by that. Instead, we should constantly learn and adapt as we go.
3. Systems thinking
Systems thinking is seeing a business as a system of connected components. Relationships between these components are dynamic and ever evolving. This is our holistic approach to addressing the increasingly complex challenges of our clients. By seeing the whole system, we ensure that all component parts of a client’s business system (tech, data, people, processes, and experiences) are understood and factored into our thinking and solutions.
Systems thinking is usually used when:
- the issue is important;
- the problem is chronic, not a one-time event;
- the problem is familiar and has a known history; and
- people have tried unsuccessfully to solve the problem in the past.
Developing systems thinking is very much about asking good questions. Below you can see examples of questions a systems thinker would ask:
- Have the team members described the problem from the angles of events, participants, patterns, and impact?
- Have we heard different perspectives on the issue?
- Do we establish relationships between the cause and the effect, taking other variables into account?
- Do we exclude from further consideration variables over which we have little or no control, and which have little effect on the issue in question?
- Do we frame the problem or issue in terms of its dynamics over time?
- Do we acknowledge that our current situation is the result of the decisions made in the past?
- Do we step back from a specific task and ask why it is important, and what bigger purpose it serves?
4. Collaboration (building networks)
In complex environments and with complex problems it is impossible to conceive and deliver great solutions on your own (as an individual contributor) or with the same team (fixed set of talent). Every complex problem requires its own set of talent. Professionals need to be proactive and mobile to collaborate inside and outside of the organization, in other words – to build professional value networks.
What makes a team/network effective:
- Shared purpose and commitment: you share a common goal and commitments and consider them highly important.
- Acknowledgment of limitations: everyone in the team recognizes their limitations in knowledge and experience, showing the utmost respect to, and interest in, their colleagues' perspectives.
- Absence of ego and power parade: instead of ego, power, and status displays, everyone participates in discussions as equals, without fear of judgment or exclusion, and without the fear of taking risks and making mistakes.
- Embracing strategic mistakes: strategic errors in experiments are welcomed as a means of optimizing approaches to find the best solutions.
- Clearly defined roles: roles within the team are well-defined, and everyone actively contributes their share.
- Pursuit of clear objectives: the entire team pursues the same clear objectives.
- Time for retrospectives and reflection: time is allocated for retrospective sessions and reflection.
- Collective learning and knowledge sharing: collective learning and knowledge sharing are a consistent part of the team process.
- Constructive debates and critical questions: constructive debates and critical questions are encouraged to clarify situations and validate approaches.
- Sharing constructive feedback: everyone shares constructive feedback with each other and acknowledges each other's contributions.
5. Moonshot thinking
Moonshot thinking involves choosing a huge challenge and creating a radical solution (it can sound like science fiction today, but there should be technological evidence it could work) by using a disruptive technology (machine learning, 3D printing, robotics, etc.). For teams with a moonshot thinking, 10% incremental improvements are not enough. Instead, from the beginning, they focus on a solution that will bring ten times (x10) improvements. Moonshot thinking results in the most remarkable breakthroughs in the industry.
Below are behaviors that inhibit you from moonshot thinking:
- Playing it safe and setting goals you already know are achievable.
- Killing big ideas and favoring the teams that play it safe.
- Having zero failures – often an indicator that the thinking isn’t big enough.
- Your team does not have the room, ecosystem, and infrastructure for experimentation and risk-taking.
- You are not gathering data points for an idea early on.
- You do not put your ideas to the test early in the process after gaining quick insights.
- You do not gather feedback regularly and do not learn from it rapidly.
- Believing that failing is “wasting” time and money.
- You and your team members are not used to shifting your perspective on solving a problem.
What soft skills are needed in IT today? Go to our Discord channel.