Soft skills, as they are unfortunately often named,² aren’t seen as essential to most professions and they’re not typically taught. They are rarely focused on or talked about — because they can’t be easily quantified and standardised. And yet, mastery of them is often what separates the great from the good.
Our attitude, creativity, capacity for empathy and emotional intelligence are all examples of soft skills. They are not merely character traits, they are skills that can be practised and honed, much like any other. Enthusiasm, in the same way, is a skill. We’re not used to thinking of it in this respect because we tend to expect it to come naturally. Inspired by a great idea or motivated by passion we rely on external factors to influence whether something excites us.
A lot of the time however, in work and in life, the circumstances are different. We will have to work on things that we don’t like and resolve situations not of our making. Regardless of the condition we find ourselves in, there is always something we can find to be enthusiastic about. Be enthusiastic about the person; be enthusiastic about their efforts; be enthusiastic about working towards a shared goal. Be enthusiastic about the opportunity to make things better.
You might not be the smartest person in the room. You might not be the most experienced and you may not be the most talented. But you can always be the most enthusiastic.
This can be your gift. To be the person that ignites ideas and encourages people to bring forth their best self. It is easy to look for flaws and celebrate the process as critical thinking. It is a lot harder to find positive aspects, to see the potential, and enable ideas to blossom. The devil has enough advocates; be the person that sparks inspiration with your contagious enthusiasm.
¹ This quote about the great strategist Russell Davies is from the brilliant book Chief Culture Officer by Grant McCracken. Whilst Davies’ colleagues were certainly talking about more qualities than merely his enthusiasm, it is a fantastic encapsulation of the subtle power of soft skills.
² Seth Godin has a marvellous article where he talks about soft skills more broadly and proposes renaming them ‘real skills’.
³ Adam Robinson is a New York Times best-selling author, US Chess Federation life master, a global macro advisor to the heads of some of the world’s largest hedge funds, and the most enthusiastic man on the planet.