Entrepreneurs love to live in the clouds.
It’s so much easier to talk about the big vision, the grand achievement, the cliche mantras that those who have already achieved “success” claim inevitably ladder up to a massively successful business.
But the moment you become an entrepreneur and step into the world of entrepreneurship, you start to realize that what sounds easy in theory — “I have to build a great team” — does not happen overnight.
And actually, there are a lot of much smaller components that go into building “a great team” and a successful company.
As a founder, I have noticed that the soft skills I use on a daily basis are the real building blocks of a functioning business.
Anyone can say, “I need to be a great leader.”
Where people struggle is in actually deploying the soft skills that go into authentic leadership — like being patient, and able to listen.
The more I continue to grow my company, Digital Press, the more I realize it’s the small stuff that counts the most. And where I see so many other entrepreneurs fail isn’t in their ability to see the big, grand vision, but instead slip and fall over the small stuff along the way.
Here are 5 soft skills every single entrepreneur should invest in mastering sooner rather than later.
1. Managing other people’s stress.
If you thought you were stressed working a 9–5, you’re in for a real treat starting your own company.
The truth is, stress isn’t always a bad thing. Stress is just stress. Things could be going really well — and the stress you’re feeling is rooted in dealing with a lot at once.
Other times, stress becomes very emotional. People get frustrated. Conflicts arise. Resolutions need to be found.
As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to be that solid core to your company.
You cannot internalize other people’s stress — and the moment you do, you’ll find yourself in a death spiral.
Instead, you need to separate what someone else is feeling and what you’re feeling. And if you’re feeling stressed yourself, you need to address that first, so that you can more productively help the next person work through their stress.
Most entrepreneurs never learn how to do this. Instead, they build huge amounts of resentment for the people around them, never realizing that they have never mastered the skill of managing their own emotions in parallel with those around them.
The soft skill here is emotional intelligence.
2. You’re not selling — you’re giving people an opportunity to work with you.
This is a lesson I learned from a mentor of mine.
So many entrepreneurs build products and services they just assume people will buy. Meanwhile, they haven’t invested any time in understanding how they’re going to communicate their value — and ultimately share the vision of their company.
Whether you want to call this some form of communications, public speaking, or straight up sales, what I’ve realized is that the best founders aren’t selling you anything.
They’re giving you the opportunity to be part of something great.
The moment you try to sell someone on something, you’re at a disadvantage. And in a sense, you’re fighting a losing battle. Nobody wants to feel like they’re “buying into” a product or service. They want to feel like they’re hopping onto a winning team — and the way you do that is you learn how to communicate what you do in a way that triggers a positive emotion.
The soft skill here I would put under the umbrella of speaking.
3. Not cowering in the face of a challenge.
When we first launched Digital Press, we had multiple clients say, “This sounds great — but we want you to do it for us at a discount for the first 3 months.”
Now, especially when you’re first starting out (we hadn’t even signed 3 clients yet), it can be very easy to cower and say, “Ok, sure, we’ll take it,” just because you want the business.
I don’t believe that’s right.
Any great founder with a great product knows their value — and they also know how much their product or service is worth.
Every time someone came back asking for a reduction in price, we stood our ground and said, “We really value the work we do, and want to deliver the best possible product we can for our clients. And in order to do that, our costs are fixed.”
Guess what happened?
Every single client that tried to barter with us on price ended up coming back and signing on for the full amount.
The soft skill here is: people (clients especially) challenge you because they want reassurance. You need to learn how to find that reassurance in yourself, so that you can deploy that to reassure others.
4. You’re not “networking.” You’re making friends.
Anyone who approaches networking with a Hello: My Name Is nametag is doing it wrong.
Networking isn’t about stacking emails, or showing up to as many events as you possibly can.
Networking is about making friends with people in your industry (or parallel industries) who are also doing cool things — and then finding ways to provide them as much value as you possibly can.
The soft skill here is how you present yourself, and the fact that when you chase networking for networking’s sake, what you end up with is a meaningless pile of business cards.
Make friends, not contacts.
5. Empower, don’t give orders.
And finally, the greatest soft skill of all is being able to empower those around you to unlock their own potential.
I have had some truly magnificent mentors in my life. And every single one of them had a gift for allowing me to both see what was possible for myself, while simultaneously making me feel confident enough to move in that direction.
Most “leaders” don’t empower. They instruct. They give orders. They tell people what to do, without really taking the time to understand what drives each and every person — uniquely.
But when you take the time to see what makes someone “tick,” what inspires them, what moves them, you can nurture those qualities in a way that brings the best out of them. It gives them greater purpose for their work, increases their confidence, and most of all, builds their loyalty.
Because they feel as though you care about their personal interests.
And at the end of the day, that’s what all of us want. We want mentors, not bosses. We want teachers, not disciplinarians. We want people who care about us and our individual hopes and dreams and aspirations.
Which means, as a leader, it’s up to you to nurture that in yourself, first — so that you can nurture those same qualities in others.