Professional Suicide by Brilliant Young People With No Soft Skills?


Yesterday Bruce Tulgan wrote an excellent article – What’s the Matter with Kids Today?–  and why they lack basic skills. He started this way:

 “This first-year associate in a midsized accounting firm, a recent top graduate of a top school, was cutting-edge in his knowledge of a new set of tools and techniques for mining and analyzing data buried within evidentiary documents obtained during pre-litigation discovery. One of the partners said, “This kid had done some projects in school using this new approach and his technical knowledge in this area far surpassed anyone else in the firm. But he kept running into roadblocks because his communication made him seem so immature. At first, he couldn’t get anybody to listen to him. Once we got him going on introducing the new process, I know it sounds petty, but he could barely look people in the eye or string three words together without saying ‘like.’” In short, “His inability to speak in a way that seemed even remotely professional was just rubbing people the wrong way, especially in meetings, though it wasn’t very much better when he was working with people individually.” One of the other partners explained, “We had to send him to a class.” One of the other partners added, “It took a lot more than one class.”

I work with so many leaders and managers who have brilliant and technically highly skilled young people in their organisations who are just like this young man. They have so much to give, so much talent and yet so often it cannot be used because they have no soft skills to communicate it and share it with others. In many cases they don’t even recognise that they need to add these skills to their professional toolbox. Until they do, they are putting their careers in jeopardy and risking professional suicide.

Even when leaders are aware that they can’t afford to lose this expertise from their organisation, they find themselves considerably challenged, faced with an enormous task, as the example above revealed, helping that young person to learn and develop the soft skills he/she needs  to bring his/her brilliance to clients. Too often young people, like this, resist learning and the first battle is convincing them of how important it is to their career advancement. They often have no self-awareness at all of how they are coming across to others so immersed, as they are, in their technical know-how.

Bruce Tulgan has highlighted in his article why he believes this situation is occurring and  I urge everyone to read it. His answer to changing this situation – recognise the power of soft skills and spend time every week systematically building up the soft skills of your team.

Bruce has a book coming out in September this year called Bridging The Soft Skills Gap: How To Teach the Missing Basics to Today’s Young Talent. I will be buying a copy.

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