Serious Soft Skills


Podcast 3: The Most Important Soft Skill, Maybe

Today we are going to look at arguably what is one of the most important soft skills, one that sets the stage for so many other soft skills to appear. Will you agree or disagree with our host?
Bob Graham ‘0:00’: Coming up, we are going to look at arguably what is one of the most important soft skills, one that sets the stage for so many other soft skills to appear. That’s coming up in just a few seconds.
Graham ‘0:26’: Welcome to Episode 3 of Serious Soft Skills. I am Bob Graham and with me, as always — well, it’s only our third episode — is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. Hey, Toby?
Porterfield ‘0:36’: I am looking forward to this episode today because I think the topic one that we don’t completely agree on. So it will cause us to have some discussion over it and I think we are going to hear some interesting responses from some of our listeners.
Graham ‘0:55’: We’ll get to that in a few seconds. But first, let me set up who we are for someone who might have come into this cold. We each teach college, we collaborate on researching soft skills, and we both have used and seen others use soft skills in various jobs over our careers. We think our experience and expertise give us a unique lens for looking at soft skills and that’s what we are going to do right now.
The Most Important Soft Skill?
Graham ‘1:22’: I’m going to tell you — are you ready for this, Toby?
Porterfield ‘1:29’: Let’s have it.
Graham ‘1:31’: I am going to make the bold pronouncement that listening is the most important soft skill of the over 50 that we catalogued. I have been working on our book project and I was writing about listening and the more I wrote about listening, the more I realized it is really the key soft skill. Do you want to argue that right away or do you want me to make my case?
Porterfield ‘2:00’: I think I will start with a slight agreement in that listening enables so many other soft skills — innovation, teamwork. There are so many ways that listening is, I’ll use that term, enabling that it’s an important one. I’ll give you that. Let’s see what you have to say about listening.
Graham ‘2:23’: Okay, I was going to go with you just accepted my case. We can call it a day and people can get on with their lives. But  now you are going to make me do a little work.
Porterfield ‘2:36’: Absolutely.
A Leader Who Didn’t Listen
Graham ‘2:38’: Did you know that Marissa Mayer, 20th employee at Google, female software engineer, one of the most visible employees at Google. She left there to go to Yahoo! to be its CEO, not a programmer, but the CEO at Yahoo!. Over her tenure of four or five years, things were a bit rocky, to say the least. And more recently, if you have been following the headlines, you know she has sort of ushered the company to be bought by Verizon Communications. And she’s basically on her way out the door. Her choice, she’s resigning. But if you look at her tenure at Yahoo!, what she really was supposed to be doing at Yahoo! was rebuilding Yahoo! Again and again in the reporting on her and Yahoo!, and this came up frequently, her inability to listen to people — she was one of those people who thought she was the smartest person in the room — and she tended to articulate things without listening to the people in the company who were trying to help her. We see this in companies all the time with leadership trying to help the leader because failure to them means failure to employees, which can mean bad things like uncertainty and other problems. I have certainly worked at several jobs where leadership challenges have made it hard to go in and do the job each day.
When you don’t have listening, you don’t have the opportunity for an organization to grow.
Listening Leads to Influencing
Graham ‘4:18’: That was my first piece of evidence. My second piece is really fascinating to me.

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