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The Twelve Most Important Missing Basics

So many business leaders and managers at all levels fall for the myth that soft skills are a “nice to have” rather than a “must have” – simply a luxury they cannot afford to prioritize. That is a huge mistake.

I focus on three old-fashioned categories of soft skills – professionalism, critical thinking, and followership – because they seem like the best way to capture the thousands of details of behavior that managers bring up in our surveys, interviews, focus groups and seminars. In trying to make them easier to discuss and teach, I’ve boiled them down to just twelve missing basics:

Professionalism: The Missing Basics

  • 1-Self-evaluation: Regularly assessing one’s own thoughts, words, and actions against clear meaningful standards; and one’s own performance against specific goals, timelines, guidelines and parameters.
  • 2-Personal responsibility: Staying focused on what one can control directly – principally one’s self — and controlling one’s responses in the face of factors outside one’s own control.
  • 3-Positive attitude: Maintaining and conveying a positive, generous, enthusiastic demeanor in one’s expressions, gestures, words, and tone.
  • 4-Good work habits: Wellness, self-presentation, timeliness, organization, productivity, quality, follow-through, and initiative.
  • 5-People skills: Attentive listing, observing, and reading; perceiving and empathizing; effective use of words, tone, expressions and gestures — verbal, written, and otherwise; one-on-one and in groups; in-person and remotely.

Critical Thinking: The Missing Basics

  • 6-Proactive learning: Keeping an open mind, suspending judgment, questioning assumptions, and seeking out information, technique and perspective; and studying, practicing, and contemplating in order to build one’s stored knowledge base, skill-set, and wisdom.
  • 7-Problem-solving: Mastering established best-practices—proven repeatable solutions for dealing with regular recurring decisions—so as to avoid reinventing the wheel. Using repeatable solutions to improvise when addressing decisions that are new but similar.
  • 8- Decision-making: Identifying and considering multiple options, assessing the pros and cons of each, and choosing the course of action closest to the desired outcome.

Followership: The Missing Basics

  • 9-Respect for context: Reading and adapting to the existing structure, rules, customs and leadership in an unfamiliar situation.
  • 10-Citizenship: Accepting, embracing, and observing, not just the rights and rewards, but the duties of membership/belonging/participation in a defined group with its own structure, rules, customs, and leadership.
  • 11-Service: Approaching relationships in terms of what you have to offer — respect, commitment, hard work, creativity, sacrifice — rather than what you need or want.
  • 12-Teamwork: Playing whatever role is needed to support the larger mission; coordinating, cooperating and collaborating with others in pursuit of a shared goal; supporting and celebrating the success of others.

As you read and re-read the descriptions of the missing basics, you should be asking yourself: What are the highest priority behaviors for your organization, for your team, for different roles on your team, and/or for the various individuals on your team? Which behaviors are crucial to success? Which ones offer the greatest potential to increase competitive differentiation?

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