1. What are some of the important "soft skills" young people need to develop?
I define soft skills as “a collection of abilities, behaviors, and attitudes that increase your effectiveness.” Soft skills are critical to workplace success, yet employers commonly point to a lack of soft skills in new hires. Although the context and expectations differ, many skills deemed important by employers also are valuable in the home, grade school, high school, and college. Below are important soft skills that parents should seek to develop in their children.
The ability to maintain a positive attitude is a very important soft skill for your children. A positive attitude is foundational to the other soft skills listed below. A positive attitude provides the motivation needed to work hard, bounce back from setbacks, and to keep going when others give up.
A strong work ethic is another critical skill for your children to develop. By instilling a strong work ethic in your children, you give them a skill that allows them to perform at the level of the ability rather than at the level of their effort. When combined with a positive attitude, a strong work ethic can greatly contribute to your children’s success.
Parents understand that life has its ups and downs and that even successful have had some setbacks. However, many children don’t understand these truths. Thus, when children encounter a setback (do not make the baseball team, receive a poor grade, etc.), they may shrink back and think it is insurmountable. By helping your children work through the glitches they encounter growing up, you condition them to handle the bigger setbacks that they likely will encounter on their journey to success.
Flexibility here means consideration of the opinions of others, willingness to change direction as needed, and not always getting your own way. Encourage flexibility in your children by “taking turns” when selecting fun activities, restaurants to visit, etc. Applaud them when that are appropriately flexible. By conditioning your children to see beyond their own perspective, you can equip them to better get along with others from the playground all the way to the board room.
As a parent, I certainly want to solve problems for my daughter. However, my daughter must develop the attitude and skill of problem solving. The attitude of problem solving means that your children will attempt to tackle the problems they encounter rather than expecting someone else to immediately solve them.
A key skill of problem solving is determining what needs fixed before trying to find a solution. Help you children ask the right questions to define the issue they are addressing. Then work with your children to come up a few solutions and compare the pros and cons of each solution. Encourage your children to work through the solution that seems best to them. Step in when needed, but remember that your goal is to teach your children to figure things out on their own rather than to provide all the solutions. Understand that they make a mistake or two in the process, but mistakes often catalyze learning.
2. Why is the idea of "empowering" so critical?
Think about empowering your children in terms of helping them remove limitations they have influence over. One way to remove limitations to success is to develop important success skills. Let me illustrate this concept with an example.
When I was a freshman in college, I received a “D” in a chemistry course. I took the course again and got an “A.” I improved my grade by developing academic success skills. I learned how to take notes more effectively, to better prepare for tests, and I worked a lot harder (and smarter!) I doubt that my IQ increased significantly from one semester to the next, but my grade went from a “D” to an “A.”
Here is the point. Initially, my academic performance was limited by poor academic skills rather than by intelligence. Once I developed the skills I needed, I seemed “smarter” and performed at a higher level. Furthermore, the skills I developed empowered me throughout my college career. The “D” forced me to develop the skills I needed to eventually earn a PhD.
As parents, you can empower your children by helping them develop the leadership and soft skills (and academic success skills) described above. These skills will help your children achieve what they are capable of achieving.
3. How can parents encourage the development of leadership in their children?
A key step in developing your children’s leadership ability is to create the expectation of leadership. Help your children understand that they can be leaders, even if they don’t have a formal leadership position. Talk to your children about leadership, and show them every-day examples of leadership in your home, school, or community. Encourage and compliment their participation in leadership activities such as “line leader” in grade school, team captain, or student council officer.
Cary J. Green, PhD is the author of "Leadership and Soft Skills for Students: Empowered to Succeed in High School, College, and Beyond." Green has been an educator and mentor to young people for more than twenty years, and he held academic leadership positions for more than ten years. Now a full-time author, speaker, and academic/life-skills coach, Green is pursuing his true professional passion of mentoring young people on the development of leadership and soft skills that empower them to succeed. For more information, visit www.leadershipandsoftskills.com.