You’ve probably watched Lord Alan Sugar on BBC’s The Apprentice make another budding entrepreneur feel small. Or seen Gordon Ramsay make an idiot sandwich with a budding chef’s head. Or Debora Meaden dashing another pitcher’s idea in Dragons’ Den. Granted, they are not every entrepreneur, but these are the ones we ate emulating. Brash, harsh, and unforgiving. We want their success; their business acumen and we can be fooled to believe that their soft skills are the soft skills. They are not.
Jack Ma, the Founder and Chairman of Alibaba said, ‘”We have to teach our kids something unique, so that a machine can never catch up with us: values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork, care for others – the soft skills – sports, music, painting, arts, to make sure humans are different from machines.” He’s right. A few entrepreneurs of yesteryear can achieve success and fame by having no soft skills, but for us mere mortal entrepreneurs, soft skills are the only skills we need.
Soft skills & Entrepreneurs
Imagine an entrepreneur, a start-up, that cannot lead her team (Leadership skills), bring the team together towards a common goal (Teamwork), negotiates & loses (Negotiation skills), cannot win a pitch (Selling), and presents like a robot (Presentation skills). Will they succeed?
What did they lack? The soft skills that make it all happen – that take the prototype to the market. Puts the new service in everyone’s hands. Convinces the investors to back the idea. Jack Ma put it well – if we don’t embrace the soft skills, we’ll compete with the machines, and we’ll lose. If we follow the famous entrepreneurs, we’ll lose because the chances of winning with those ‘soft skills’ are next to none. So, our only alternative is to be the entrepreneur that we want to be and that is to hone & develop our soft skills to be the very best version of ourselves.
The internet is relentless in being able to offer us tips, hints, tricks, and secrets for how we can improve, but few are practical and applicable right now today. I’ll share with you 5 ways you can improve your soft skills today. The easy part is knowing how, and the hard part is changing behavior, but remember what Jack Ma said about competing against the machines – we need to adapt.
1. Be a Better Leader and Make them Feel Special
In Dale Carnegie’s book, ‘How to win friends and influence people’, he talked about making the person your whole world. Particularly in the digital age when it is easy to be distracted by a text, email, or message. Dale wanted us to know that when we talk with people they need to feel as though they are important, even just for those few minutes of our discussion. Ever been talking to someone and their phone pings, and they turn their phone over to look at it? How did that make you feel? Don’t do it to others.
2. Don’t Play Tetris with Your Calendar
Our calendar is our time. It is the only resource we cannot increase – time. I see clients’ diaries where you could not put a pin in their weekly calendar, and they are proud to say so. A week full of Team calls, back-to-back. Like the blocks of Tetris with no gaps. A week designed this way will be fraught with 3 things; 1. ‘Sorry, I was on another call’, 2. <thinking> I don’t know when I’ll get my work done, and 3. Exhausted to the point of adding no value. Screen calls are exhausting because of the amount we strain to look for the non-verbal cues that we can see in real life. Put space between your calls, if only a few minutes, by challenging each 1-hour meeting whether it could be done in 45-minutes.
3. Negotiations are Won through Preparation
There are 4 stages of negotiation; Prepare, explore, propose, and summarise. Amateur negotiators jump straight to the third stage and then find themselves in deadlock. Skipping the prepare and explore stage is like going into a car dealership and lovingly looking at the 2-seater sports car when the salesmen come over and start selling you it. By asking you no questions, he hasn’t discovered that you have 6 kids and that a sportscar is only a dream. We need to discover what the person wants first before we make proposals. Our ‘squaredance’ template will help you improve your negotiation preparation to be very prepared to win your next negotiation.
4. Most Presenters are Boring
Your team looks to you for how you engage others. If your presentations are typical slides, then theirs will be. Don’t use slides. I’ll say it again, “Don’t use slides”. Don’t start with PowerPoint. Instead, begin with a single question written on a piece of blank paper: What do I want my audience to think and feel during my presentation? You are pitching to investors, so you want them to think that you are a safe pair of hands and be excited. Pitching to your team, and you want them to think that you are a confident leader and that the future of this company is solid. As Stephen Covey, the author of the famous book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” wrote – Begin with the end in mind.
5. The Push and Pull Model is Essential Learning to Be Able to Influence
You are either a pusher or a puller when it comes to influencing. Both parts are valid. By not knowing that there are two sides, you are likely to be using one side and missing out on the opportunity to influence in a whole different way. Essentially, pullers, ask questions, to influence. And pushers share what’s in their head. In different situations, it will be useful to be able to choose one or the other. Switching between the two will improve your ability to influence by +50%. Google search ‘MBM push and pull’ to find out more’.
Remember that “Information without application is just entertainment”. Don’t just entertain yourself, make a behavioral change today.
* By Darren A. Smith, from Making Business Better