I recently came.e across a series of tweets by a renowned Zimbabwean human resources practitioner who pointed out the lack of soft skills in Zimbabwean graduates according to employers in the market. In the same way, there are many start-up entrepreneurs who also lack soft skills that can be very helpful in the process of doing business.
Soft skills are general skills that largely have a tendency to do with issues of emotional intelligence. Hard skills are usually job or task-specific skills that are taught in formal education setups. With soft skills, they are best learned in practice. Let’s look at 10 essential soft skills for startups.
Communication is, of course, a critical foundation because the role of an entrepreneur involves a lot of it. Communicating with customers, suppliers, employees, banks, regulatory authorities, service providers and likely many more. These skills need to be both written & oral and are characterised by the ability to clearly express oneself in a way that others can easily comprehend.
Teamwork is next up but really should be right next to communication. Many startups are small solo one-person affairs. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a team. It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to perform every function alone, some may be outsourced. In addition to that working with best practice in industry close working relationships with supply chain partners make for team relationships in substance where they may not exist in form. Therefore learning to work in a functional team is important.
If there’s a place on this earth where this is a priority soft skill it is in Zimbabwe. While change is the only true constant everywhere we seem to go through more rapid and violent changes than the average person anywhere else. This, of course, makes the ability to adapt to changes absolutely vital for the Zimbabwean entrepreneur.
The way to adapt of course is really a function of problem-solving. Problem-solving is a combination of analytical and creative skills to arrive at solutions. This may involve rearranging the ideas altogether or dismantling the paradigm altogether and taking a fresh look at things. One of the best ways to learn how to do this is to learn from the problem-solving lessons of other successful entrepreneurs.
Creativity is another essential yet underrated soft skill for entrepreneurs. It is easy to talk about creativity for those operating in what are considered to be the attractive new age industries such as influencers and mediaprenuers but less likely to be expected of those working in traditional or primary industries such as agriculture. However, creativity is really innovation and the idea is to provide a better product or experience to all who encounter your business.
Work ethic is one of those things that a lot of people say but not a lot of people can define. In simple terms, it is a matter of character and integrity. Do you put 100% into your work? Do you do your best in every job that you do? It’s about making sure you deliver on promises, even tacit ones.
Where communication skills are how well you express yourself, interpersonal skills are how well you interpret and receive communication from others. Clearly, this is critical to understanding the messages that others are expressing to you. A rather confusing story of how a Nigerian airline threatened to sue a travel blogger for a bad review of their service is an example of interpersonal communication gone wrong.
It’s a topic we discuss often and we should. Time is evenly distributed but our freedom to use it is not evenly distributed. The current load-shedding levels have resulted in a nation of nocturnal human beings who are known to be very active at 3 a.m. Ultimately it is not time that we manage but rather we manage ourselves within the time we have.
In the 7 habits of Highly Effective People, the late Dr Stephen Covey differentiates between two types of leadership. Personal (private) leadership and team (public) leadership. He puts forward that one needs to master personal leadership in order to excel at public leadership. And this makes sense. We must indeed learn to lead well in our own lives before we can hope to lead any sized group of others.
Attention to detail
The more successful the entrepreneur the more likely they are to pay attention to detail. In many industries, there is a high degree of detail required to understand customers, products, suppliers and the market. Practising the skill of paying attention to detail is a worthwhile pursuit in the long run as it begins to affect your work ethic, your planning, your execution and every aspect of your life.
Soft skills are not static. Due to the fact of being largely based on emotional intelligence, they are dynamic and will transform with trends and changes. The skills are all practical and such are best learned by practice and maintained by action.