With rising geopolitical concerns, record unemployment, and technology advancing faster than ever, it has never been more crucial for working professionals to stay ahead of the curve.
As a futurist who has helped more than 1,000 organizations adapt to change and uncertainty, I’ve found that, while hard skills remain important, there are five forward-thinking — and often ignored — soft skills that are crucial for staying relevant and equipped for a rapidly changing workforce.
Here are the skills to master before 2021, along with free online courses that can help you build upon them:
1. Futuristic thinking
Futuristic thinkers have the ability to look past the events of today and into the possibilities of tomorrow. They can visualize compulsory new ideas about customers, products, services, strategies, and business models.
The leaders of tomorrow will have to think outside the box and think further into the future if they want to remain competitive and predict changes before their competitors.
Recommended course: Ready, Set, Future! Introduction to Futures Thinking,
Highlights: Build your understanding of what futurist thinking is, how to collect and analyze signals of change, learn more about futuristic thinking skills.
(Another course I highly recommend is The Future After Covid, which has received great reviews. Please note that it does charge a $495 fee.)
2. Courageous leadership
Even if you’re not in a managerial role, developing leadership skills has never been more important. In fact, studies show that those with such skills are more likely to get a raise, promoted, or selected to take on additional responsibilities.
Bold, confident leadership can help drive organizations forward and create growth, something that’s undeniably positive.
Courageous leaders lead their organizations in authentic and sustainable ways.
They stick to their principles, are willing to innovate, take risks, make changes, and won’t walk away when times get tough or things are difficult.
Recommended course: What Great Leaders Do
Highlights: In this lecture that parallels his book, “Good Boss, Bad Boss,” Stanford professor Bob Sutton unpacks the best habits of beloved and effective managers, and details the worst practices of those who fail to lead.
3. Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.
With the emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the ability to recognize, understand and manage not just your own emotions, but also those of others, has become one of the top skills employers look for.
People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people.
Recommended course: Develop Your Emotional Intelligence
Highlights: Taking a single online course won’t make you an EQ whiz overnight; it takes patience, practice, and commitment. But this introductory program, which explores the components of emotional intelligence and how it can be applied at work, is a great place to start.
4. Interpersonal communication
Interpersonal communication is the process of exchange of information, ideas, and feelings between two or more people through verbal or non-verbal methods.
In a world where communication is mostly taking place on digital platforms such as Slack or Zoom, knowing how to speak clearly and interact with others is key to maintaining interpersonal relationships, successful problem-solving, and managing conversations.
Interpersonal communication is not just about what is actually said – the language used – but how it is said and the non-verbal messages sent through tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and body language, it’s also about active listening and being attuned to feelings.
Recommended course: Improving Communication Skills
Highlights: Taught by award-winning Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer, you’ll build on key communication skills such as how to develop trust, be persuasive, ask thoughtful questions, engage in active listening, and choose the right medium (e.g., videoconferences, phone calls, or emails) for your messages.
5. Cognitive flexibility skills
Cognitive flexibility is about moving between different tasks simultaneously, applying concepts from one context toward solving a problem in another unrelated or new situation. It’s also about evaluating strategies and generating novel solutions.
Employers will soon be placing more emphasis on cognitive abilities like creativity and adaptability.
Those with cognitive flexibility skills have the ability to disengage from one task and respond to another or think about multiple concepts at the same time. Cognitive flexibility involves creativity, logical reasoning, and problem sensitivity. ..
Recommended course: Introduction to Cognitive Psychology: An Experimental Science
Highlights: Knowledge cannot be fully digested if the information is presented out of context. The exercises in this course will not only teach you how to understand complex concepts but also how to apply them in different settings.