There is no force equal to a woman.” – W.E.B Du Bois
My blue collar, Catholic background provided solid core values. My entertainment was an occasional movie-only if approved by the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency- and family dinners and celebrations. My summer. activity in Newark, New Jersey, was to sit on the front stoop, day and evening, watching the neighborhood walk by. As an adult, when colleagues assumed I attended a fancy summer camp and asked me its name, I would keep a straight face and say Camp Stoop.
My core values endure thanks to my childhood, but the narrow world of my youth offered little opportunity to learn the soft skills required for senior leadership and management. From learning to write a thank you note, speaking with proper tone, diction and knowing what fork or glass to use, there was nothing in my childhood or upbringing which helped convey these skills.
After high school I immediately obtained my college degree and proceeded directly to law school. By my early twenties I had obtained two degrees and the basic structure for my hard skills was firmly in place.
Reality hit when I started my legal career as a lawyer for the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. For the first time, I had to function in a genteel, formal, Southern, mostly WASP city. I soon realized that women did not use four letter words in public, wrote thank you notes for everything and entertained with decorum and grace. Professional women also had two wardrobes-office wear and evening wear.
Small talk about travel, music, theater, golf, boating other sports and private clubs was expected. My world became huge. I knew I had to learn and master these soft skills if I expected to survive.
At some point, I acquired and read Letitia Baldridge’s Complete Guide to Executive Manners. I used it as my bible when writing the proper salutation to thank an ambassador from a foreign country, when writing a name properly on a dinner place card or learning corporate jet etiquette and so much more! My hard skills may have put me in those arenas but it was the soft skills I learned and acquired that enabled me to successfully function in those environments. It was behavior I had to meticulously study and sometimes painfully learn.
All of the opportunities in my life came about because of my perfect balance between hard and soft skills. For example, when I was seven years old my father determined I was going to go to sleep away camp. I credit my ability to socialize confidently because of my camp experience. I learned how to socialize with ease, how to command a room, and how to read an audience. My camp soft skills provided me with my camp hard skills, where I obtained many instructional certifications and the confidence to become a successful professional in the summer and auxiliary field. If it wasn’t for my soft skill experiences, many of my hard skills would not have come to fruition.
After graduation, I was determined to find a career. My soft skills led me through various jobs and provided me with an abundance of opportunities in different fields. These opportunities afforded me leadership positions and helped me further develop goals. My soft skills have helped me adjust to difficult working environments, while also providing me with the ability to fit in to whatever social group I encounter. These same skills taught me to never judge and instead be a part of whatever environment I was in, while being the most authentic version of myself. Growing up, my parents always instilled great manners in my brother and me. It is soft skills such as this, that I take for granted because although it might not seem relatable when first examined, it directly affects ones’ attitude and values both personally and professionally.
I attribute majority of my soft skills to sports. Growing up playing a number of sports and always being in an athletic environment has taught me what it means to be a leader, a team player, how to fail (which in-turn taught me resilience), how be passionate, and most importantly how to take advantage of every opportunity. This last key soft skill is what has aided me in achieving the perfect balance between both skills. Expectations are different for women as they are for men. For example, men are taught to be aggressive, tough, and assertive, while women are taught to be tame, poised, and polite. Sport; however, has the ability to provide women with a more equal playing field (not always: see Serena Williams). I learned how to be strong, I learned how to take risks, I learned how to “play with the boys.”
You cannot continuously improve interdependent systems and processes until you progressively perfect interdependent, interpersonal relationships.” – Stephen Covey, Author
Soft skills get little respect but they will make or break your career.” – Peggy Klaus, Author
(1) How can the essential, soft skills of communication, collaboration, confidence and innovation be displayed in a technology driven, work from home environment?
(2) Do millennials lack emotional intelligence or the soft skills needed in the workplace to connect on a human level?
(3) If soft skills are not taught or developed from childhood, how can they become adult learned behavior?
(4) Is there a gender bias, and is it more difficult for women to balance the hard and soft skills in the workplace environment?
(5) Is it still important for a woman to project or emulate a sense of professional presence-from decisiveness, charisma, authenticity, to a sense of humor to great grooming to advance her career?