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Leaders’ Career Advice? Focus on Soft Skills

Leaders’ Career Advice? Focus on Soft Skills

One of the hardest aspects of building a successful career is determining what skills may be important to employers in the future. The skills that companies say they are seeking the most in 2019? Soft skills. A global report from LinkedIn1 cites training for soft skills as the No. 1 priority of leaders and people managers.

So-called “soft” skills include those that are innately human and that help employees innovate and provide fresh ideas and solutions. Soft skills are linked more to personality traits and personal characteristics than to classroom learning, and can be generally placed in broad categories that include creativity, leadership, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and time management.

When accomplished executives from D.A. Davidson Companies’ Board of Directors were queried about career preparation, their answers focused largely on soft skills. The D.A. Davidson Board members were asked what career advice they would provide to their younger selves if they could.

“Be a Servant Leader, and focus on leading colleagues with vision and passion,” said Board Member Vibhu Sharma. Sharma serves as Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer for the Mutual of Omaha Insurance Group. “Be humble,” he said. “Don’t focus on self-promotion or monetary gains.”

Susan Carstensen, a 25-year veteran of corporate financial management, spoke of the importance of leaders using their time effectively and efficiently. “Your calendar really is yours to manage (no one else’s),” said Carstensen, who led the finance, information technology and human resources divisions for RightNow Technology.

“What you really have that is valuable is your time and it’s up to you to use it wisely,” Carstensen added. “Pick and schedule your priorities, including self and family, to escape the tyranny of the urgent but not important activities. It forces you to be a better manager of people and teams, understand how to delegate and learn how to say no.”

Such career advice can be invaluable, in part because studies indicate that the “war for talent” is likely to become fiercer. By 2020, the world could have 40 million fewer college-educated workers than are actually needed, according to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).2 In the same report, MGI estimates that developing economies could have a shortage of 45 million workers with secondary-school educations and vocational training.

In 2017, MGI3 also estimated that half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055, and suggests that this actually could happen as many as 20 years earlier or later, depending on circumstances. That means that for those who hope to have many successful years of a career ahead of them, it may be smart to focus on skills that cannot be automated: the human, soft skills that employers list as important.

LinkedIn’s Head of Recruiting Weighs In on the Top Talent Trends for 2019. LinkedIn Talent Blog. 5 Feb. 2019.
The world at work: Jobs, pay, and skills for 3.5 billion people. McKinsey Global Institute. June 2012.
Harnessing automation for a future that works. McKinsey Global Institute. Jan. 2017.

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