The Top Ten

High school students can be refreshingly challenging. They see the world with a beginner’s mind in many ways, and their questions reveal the level of thought and the agency of youth. Recently during a presentation on leading others, a 17-year-old raised her hand and asked, “Given your experience of working with so many people, what are the top ten skills that matter at work?” After some thought, I said these are my top ten:

  • #2 Assertiveness
  • #4 Collaboration
  • #6 Conflict Management
  • #12 Emotional Maturity
  • #15 Active Empathy
  • #16 Flexibility
  • #23 Integrity
  • #25 Interpersonally Skillful
  • #27 Listening Generously
  • #31 Optimism
  • #34 Perspective-Taking
  • #42 Self-Confidence
  • #53 Trustworthy
  • #54 Understanding Others

The Top Ten

She quickly said, “That is more than 10!” And I said, “Yes, but I figured you would rather know what is required to be successful in the fullest sense of your question.”

Every published survey of the last few years that asks employers what they are looking for in a candidate, they will answer something like this: “Besides the skills and knowledge to do the job, we need people who are smart at people skills– people who know how to work constructively and engage with others to create a success spiral.”

When asked the question “How many people did you let go because of their lack of skill?”, very few HR professionals or hiring managers will say “most” they let go in any given year were let go because of skill on the job. The typical answer is: “It is their behavior toward others and their fit in our culture that dooms their employment with us.”

And of course, this is fixable. Given appropriate awareness of the impact of behavior and fostering a growth mindset, employees can polish their EQ skills and become the contributor to the enterprise that was hoped for when they were hired.

(Note: the # in the list above is the chapter number of the People Skills Handbook where action tips to tune up this still can be found.)