The future of work demands power skills

A funny thing happens as you grow your career from the early stages and learn and flourish as a leader. The beginning stages often start with subject matter expertise. In my first few months as a marketer, I was a creative and eager writer with little expertise specific to credit unions. I remember my initial copy being filled with edits, changes, and suggestions to improve. I took it hard, and I took it seriously. I learned to understand the intricacies of writing to capture the attention and imagination of our members and how different that was from the work I had done at university.

I learned more about financial services and gained a deeper understanding of what might resonate with members and potential members. Over time, my acumen grew in writing, analyzing segments for marketing, connecting campaigns with frontline teams to drive stronger success, building the website, supporting our online banking, and more. That subject matter expertise led to opportunities to take on leadership in marketing. Over time, as I became a leader, I learned from those around me and raised my hand to engage in opportunities to develop and thrive.

As my dream to become a credit union CEO formed and I shared the dream with others, my mentors quickly encouraged me to diversify my subject matter expertise and lead other functional areas of the organization. At the time, it was highly unusual for a credit union CEO to earn an opportunity with a direct path from the marketing function. I followed that advice and explored lending, digital experience, sales, member service, branches, advocacy, research, strategy, human resources, and more. Those mentors’ advice was sound and supported me in gaining a broader view of credit unions as a cooperative business.

As my experiences matured, so did the focus on expanding my competencies and leadership acumen. While the subject matter expertise between human resources and digital engagement might be diffuse, core leadership tools thread across most subject matter expertise.

And while there is much science behind leading, there is also much art and nuance.

Like parenting or being a great partner in life, there is no playbook, and no matter how much you read, prepare, and learn, the actual experience of leading is one of the best ways to continue to nurture further maturity.

That experience is hard-earned. Consider for a moment the first time you…

  • Shared constructive feedback with a direct report
  • Prepared for a truly effective one-on-one
  • Gave a presentation to a Board
  • Pitched a new idea to a group of peers
  • Led an area that wasn’t an area you knew as well from a subject matter perspective than those on the team
  • Raised your hand for a new opportunity
  • Researched and tried something you were very unfamiliar with doing
  • Disagreed with a trusted colleague on a business matter in a large meeting
  • Told your leader a significant piece of bad news

Each situation teaches you something. When you do it well, you learn what to repeat. When it doesn’t go well, you might play it over repeatedly to understand why the failure occurred and consider what you might do differently in the future. You read, attend classes, grow mentoring relationships, and then apply theoretical learning in the real world. You have a leader who treats you poorly, and you adapt to prevent similar harm from occurring to others. Time passes, and leadership becomes another subject matter expertise, and it is an extremely challenging subject.

Our Community Financial Credit Union leadership team spent time together offsite a couple of weeks ago. We explored a host of content, including how we elevate belonging and advance the future of work as an employer of choice. In one of the breakout sessions, I sat with a table of leaders and discussed the idea of “soft skills.” I shared that I believe that phrase is something we must stop using. It undermines the importance of how we treat one another and minimizes how hard the work it is to be a leader that balances the many elements of human engagement. A team member at the table said, “They should be called power skills.” Huzzah!

I had not heard this framing before, and it made my week. Josh Bersin of Bersin & Associates wrote eloquently about this in 2019. In “Let’s Stop Talking About Soft Skills: They’re Power Skills”, Bersin shared, “Hard Skills are soft (they change all the time, are constantly being obsoleted, and are relatively easy to learn), and Soft Skills are hard (they are difficult to build, critical, and take extreme effort to obtain.”

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2023 report, the top 10 skills currently “on the rise” include:

  1. Creative thinking
  2. Analytical thinking
  3. Technological literacy
  4. Curiosity and lifelong learning
  5. Resilience, flexibility, and agility
  6. Systems thinking
  7. AI and big data
  8. Motivation and self-awareness
  9. Talent management
  10. Service orientation and customer service

As credit unions work to win the war for talent, develop their teams, and become highly desirable employers instead of the places where folks “stumble into” loving the cooperative movement, we must reframe what it will take to create cultures of the future where team members thrive, and leaders build, nurture, and engage Power Skills. This is not a subtle shift in language. It is a meaningful and intentional step toward elevating the value of human beings, showcasing that an organization’s culture directly connects to bottom-line business outcomes and modernizing how we describe what it takes to build success in a world leaping through change. What Power Skill will you lean into today?

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns

Tansley Stearns is the president & ceo at Community Financial Credit Union. “No” is not a word in Tansley’s vocabulary. If there is an opportunity to bolster Community Financial Credit ... Web: Details