The Gift of Uncommon Skills

The Gift of Uncommon SkillsWant to give your employees a gift that will last a lifetime?  Give them skills that transcend their current job.  In fact, give them skills that transcend any one job – that are valued no matter what job they are in.  Help them to be the value players no matter where they play.  In so doing, you also make them more valuable to you and your own organization, because you benefit from their enhanced abilities in these timeless talents.

What are the nominees for the skills most needed and valued – and more importantly, how do you help your employees to acquire them?

We combed articles, studies, jobs reports, and surveys to look for future skills for leaders.  We refined them to the list of the skills that are not so easily acquired – but are nonetheless highly esteemed.  So here you go!  The Top Five skill gifts you can offer to your employees!

Skill #1 – Collaboration

Going it alone just isn’t an effective M.O. any more, and the need to collaborate effectively is crucial in every job.  The formerly backroom jobs like Information Technology and Accounting have even been brought out into the realm of working together to solve business problems, and a collaborative, partnering style is an acquisition that even the most left-brained people need to sign on to.

You help your employees to acquire the skill by first raising their awareness that all work is collaborative, and then by helping them to understand all the elements of collaboration – openness/listening, diversity of opinion, joint problem-solving methods, decision-making models, conflict resolution, power and authority dynamics, etc.  And you coach them – or assign them a coach – to help them through their first efforts in collaboration.

Skill #2 – People Management

This skill is mentioned over and over again as a critical one for tomorrow’s workplace – and one in which fewer and fewer people excel.  It sounds deceptively simple.  People management, though, encompasses the complex questions of motivating people, selecting the right people for the right jobs, and developing people.  It implies a dizzying array of personal capabilities ranging from patience and selflessness to decisiveness and self-awareness.

Developing this skill is a process.  Give your employees a start by having them observe what good people managers do well – and how they do it.  Have them describe the tactics and techniques that bring their skills to life.  Give them some temporary managerial roles on projects, using coaching methods to help them observe their own wins and misses and to analyze how they might change the game plan on the next play.  Encourage them to use 360-degree feedback from those they are managing, as a way to learn directly from ‘the horse’s mouth’.  A seasoned, formal coaching relationship is highly valuable in developing this skill.

Skill #3 – Cognitive Flexibility

Those words are great, but obscure an almost frightening meaning.  The needs of tomorrow’s leaders include an adaptive ability to move among various cognitive modes: from problem-solving to creative thinking; from logic and reasoning to visioning; from data analysis to decision-making.  And the requirement is that these diverse concepts be held simultaneously – that tomorrow’s leaders will be able to multi-task within them.

To even appreciate this, employees need to begin to experience each of these various cognitive processes separately and to be able to compare and contrast the neurological pathways required to be effective in each mode.  Giving them assignments that are specifically designed to exercise various cognitive models is a good starting point, asking them to then define how they processed the assignment.  Over time, ask for combinations.  For example, how solving a business problem today might inform a future marketplace strategy.  Or how a proposed solution might be made more powerful if the constraints of the ‘known world’ were removed.

Skill #4 – Project Management

As we’re asking our leaders to operate in ‘multiples’ – multiple people, multiple potential solutions, multiple teams, and to do it virtually in restricted time frames, we also need our leaders to know how to effectively create and execute their work as projects – with schedules and budgets and resource constraints and communication plans and risk considerations and testing of effectiveness of the outcomes.  There are professionals who have these skills, but for tomorrow, everyone will need to carry a toolbox.

This one is easier for you to develop. There are courses – universities and private companies offer them.  Often, they are heavy on process when what you need is the logic model.  Don’t look for the certification-compliant courses, but for the ones that teach the basics.  Make sure the courses include actual project work.  Then begin to give projects to your employee, and team her with a skilled project manager so she can learn what she might be missing.

Skill #5 – Communicating

Another one of those ‘sounds easy’ skills.  But communication is the #1 source of problems for leaders.  Leaders need to be able to effectively convey their ideas and expectations, listen and actually hear what others mean, work through conflicts, negotiate solutions, and soothe egos.  Communication skills represent a tall order.

Start with some basics – what resonates with people.  A good communication/speech coach will help an employee to assess needs of an audience and apply the best techniques, whether that audience is one person or a roomful.  That coach will describe the value of storytelling, and what the elements of a good story are.  It’s a crucial piece of the communication skill set.  Either that coach or an interpersonal coach can help the employee to learn to navigate conflicts, negotiations, and difficult communications like performance conversations.


Author Daniel Pink reminds us that motivation is about autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  When you give your employees the gift of mastery of these uncommon – and difficult – skills, you give them powerful motivation and loyalty, and you give yourself richly endowed future leaders.

Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant

Did you enjoy this article?  Please join our email list to receive a bi-weekly blog digest. Know someone else who would like this article?  Share it with them using the buttons below:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *