Skills to help you succeed
Back in university, when I was studying to be a systems design engineer at Waterloo, my classmates and I would often disparage faculties that taught “soft skills”. Written communication, presentations, management science… these were the realm of students who weren’t smart enough to handle computer architecture, fluid dynamics, and 3rd year calculus, we figured. These courses were subjective and they were difficult to fail so long as you were present.
Fast forward to today, and some of the most challenging aspects of my job relate to these “soft skills”. Negotiating, inspiring, leading, communicating–this is what I now do.
I was just featured in Canadian Business’ 20 Young Women in Power. During my interview I was asked what is the best professional advice I’ve ever been given. I didn’t have to think long about it before responding; “Don’t react”, meaning, never make important decisions at the time the choices present themselves. Never respond emotionally to someone who says something that upsets you, whether in person or over email. Instead, take a step back, and approach the situation from a different angle, instead of escalating the perceived dispute.
The advice came from a member of my board of directors–a successful executive in India–Sonjoy Mohanty. He gave me this advice in the middle of the most emotionally charged period of my professional life. My company, Savvica, was in the middle of a merger with StudyPlaces, a former rival. Significant restructuring was required under severe time constraints. It was stressful, the stakes were high, and emotions were boiling over every day, if not every hour. The merger is long since complete, and I continue to fall back to this advice.
My engineering education taught me how to think analytically and to solve problems. It is my foundation. However, its been my experience in executive roles, especially at the helm of Savvica, that revealed “soft skills” to be the most important I need to succeed.
My mother always says that if you can’t learn by listening to others, you have to learn through experience.