“We don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things.” This world-famous quote by Walt Disney defines the pinnacle of improving skills, because to understand how to improve skills you need to realize nobody is perfect. We’re going to make mistakes, and you just need to keep moving forward, never backwards. If you move backwards then you’re not improving; you’re hurting yourself.
What are skills? We need to break this down so skills are defined into categories: hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are teachable things like accounting. Updating your general ledgers, doing trial balances, and journal entries are skills that you have learned or been taught that can be used in a job. A soft skill is more abstract. These may be harder to learn, Soft skills include humility, patience, controlling your emotions, respect for others, and your work ethic. Soft skills are harder to teach, yet they’re one of the most valued skills that you can have in the business world. Even if you and your coworker don’t get along, you can still have soft skills built up enough to where you don’t let them get to you.
Most businesses are shifting to a new version of business management leadership style called “love works”. Love Works is a book by Joel Manby, former CEO of SeaWorld, Herschend Family Entertainment and Saab USA. Joel learned soft skills during his career. He knew how to run a business; in fact, he took some from being a very poor company to being a very rich company in a short amount of time because he had the hard skills learned in college. He attended an Ivy League school for economics, and he was one of the most financially successful CEOs. Joel has made numerous television appearances, including an episode of Undercover Boss with Herschend Family. In his book, he goes over his time with Saab North America, and he talked about experiences where he’s had the hard skills to make the decisions he made. Even though he made good decisions, how he made the decision was wrong. He developed his soft skills as he learned. Just because you know how to do something doesn’t mean the way that you do it is the right way. That’s where soft skills are important.
How do you improve skills? The best way to improve your soft skills is to learn from your mistakes. Learning from your mistakes is the hard way to do this, yet it is the most effective. Life lessons are another way to improve your soft skills. Talk to mentors and learn from them at your job. Ask for an advisor. Explain, “I want to be here, and this is where I want to go. Can you help me get there, or can you find somebody who can help me get there?” At Herschend Family Entertainment they have a program called the leadership mentoring program. That’s exactly what this program is meant to do. This program teaches soft skills to the employees who want to move into leadership.
Now that we’ve talked about improving soft skills, let’s talk about improving hard skills. Hard skills require focus, determination, and willpower. One of my favorite movie quotes of all time is from “The Karate Kid” with Jackie Chan. One of Jackie Chan’s lines in the movie is, “Your focus needs more focus,” and a lot of times this is true, especially when you’re working those front-line jobs trying to move up. The supervisors are always watching. They want to see how well you perform in your job now. They are watching your soft skills, but they’re mainly focused on hard skills to move up into that next position. They want to know without a shadow of a doubt that you can do your job efficiently. The way to move up in a company is to be the best that you can be at the position that you are currently at, and you do that by focusing on learning and improving your hard skills. Once you’ve been taught how to do a job and you do it the way they have trained you to do it, think about the job. Step back and say,”Is there a better way, a more efficient way, that I can do this to improve the company or to improve my work conditions and to make this a better place to work?” Then make a list, go to your supervisor and say, “This is a great thing that we’re doing here; however, here’s a list of things that I see that we can do more efficiently. How can I help to make this a more efficient place to work?” Most of the time they will take your advice.
Another way to improve your hard skills is by going to college. Getting a degree is great, but don’t think just because you have a degree, you will get the job. Be humble. That’s where soft skills come in. Hard and soft skills work side-by-side to make you the best possible candidate for a job. You want to show that you know how to do things like trial balances and profit and loss reports, but you also know how to be an asset in the position that you are applying for. You must be willing to learn. Show that you have training in hard skills but show your soft skills by being flexible. Then you can be more than what you are now. Like Walt says, keep moving forward. Constantly improve and learn. The minute you stop learning is the minute you stop improving your skills.
Thank you all for taking time to read this. If you want to know more about skill improvement, please come to the Arkansas PBL state fall leadership conference at UA-Little Rock College of Business on October 19th where we’ll talk more about soft skills. I greatly appreciate every one of you, and hope you have an amazing 2018-2019 PBL year!
Brent C. Lawrence
Executive Vice President of Membership