One of my life's great lucky breaks was that business school also taught about soft skills, and that most business challenges were only superficially about money.
The challenges involving people, teams, motivation, and communication are deeper, harder, and more important than spreadsheets and technology.
But teaching about skills isn't enough. Traditional business education's lectures and case studies didn't teach us to lead--to give experience practicing soft skills.
What concerns 44 percent of top U.S. executives.
In a 2013 survey of top US executives by Adecco Staffing, 44 percent of respondents listed the lack of soft skills among applicants as their top concern, twice the level of the second highest category, technical skills.
Employers rank this shortcoming higher than technical inability. Not that the U.S. monopolizes it:
Across the Atlantic, a study by the Development Economics Research Group last year estimated that by 2025 the shortage of soft skills in the United Kingdom alone could cost as much as $22 billion (£13.9 billion) a year in foregone economic output.
If America's business culture doesn't impart soft skills and top business schools don't teach how to practice them, what can we expect of our aspiring leaders?
The report noted:
While candidates may look good "on paper," they don't know how to effectively work within a team or in an office.
It suggests considering the whole package when hiring.
What about you?
Considering the whole package is nice advice for HR, but if you want to lead--to own projects, build teams, get promoted--your key issue is not how to evaluate resumes.
Your issue is how do I develop these skills?
No great leader or entrepreneur became great through reading books and listening to lectures--traditional education's core.
Big breaks and long-term success both come from knowing how to work with and lead people.
We know how to teach soft skills.
Soft skills come from experience, not abstract learning.
This student feedback from an undergraduate course I taught in entrepreneurship at NYU illustrates the difference and value:
As a senior, this was the first course that challenged me, asking me to think outside my comfort zones. Yet, it is also where I developed a strong network of supporters through group projects.
The feedback was anonymous, but since most of my students come from NYU-Stern, it suggests that a student could go seven semesters in a top-five business program before being personally challenged.
Yet the student also points out that the challenge leads to teamwork, mutual support, and getting things done. What you want. What 44 percent of top U.S. executives want.
If you're looking to learn soft skills--to get hired, to own project, to lead--look to learn to practice them, not just to learn about them.
If you're in a position to influence U.S. education, I recommend considering implementing active, experiential learning into your curriculum. Our future leaders demand it.