Building Workplace Readiness Skills: Part Two

Last week we began our three-part series on workplace readiness skills for teens and young adults. We’re writing this series because we share the concern being voiced by many employers and educators that our nation’s young people are not (generally speaking) well-equipped with the skills to succeed in today’s workforce.

As an organization committed to empowering the next generation, LifeSmart is honored to contribute our perspectives on this subject. Whether your role is educator, mentor, parent, or otherwise, we hope you’ll find these insights helpful in preparing the young adults in your life for success in the “real world.”

Today we’ll focus on four important personal leadership attributes: teamwork, diversity awareness, conflict resolution, and creativity/ resourcefulness.



With rare exceptions, most young adults will pursue careers where teamwork skills are critical. Today’s workplace is far more collaborative than in the past, and career success is greatly influenced by a person’s ability to work well with others. Here are the attitudes and actions of great team players:

  1. Giving everything their best. This means delivering excellent results for their assumed roles/tasks and relating well with the others. They set their bar even higher in a team context since others are counting on them.
  2. Encouraging and appreciating their teammates.
  3. Embracing feedback, rather than treating it defensively.
  4. Keeping their communications neutral or positive.
  5. Focusing foremost on the team and achieving its goals. “Team > me!”


Diversity Awareness

As they find their way in the workplace, young adults will be working with people of different ages, genders, ethnicities, faiths, backgrounds, and worldviews. By making a concerted effort to appreciate others’ uniqueness and value, they will build synergy, trust, AND a better workplace environment. That means:

  1. Taking opportunities to get to know their colleagues both professionally and personally. How are their personalities wired? What are their interests? By better understanding their coworkers, everyone can relate more successfully.
  2. Always looking for the best in people even if they won’t make the “BFF” list (hint: most won’t!).
  3. Being respectful and tactful while building relationship capital.
  4. Being an inspiring team player and avoiding supercharged conversation topics (hint: be careful during election season!).
  5. Always remembering that no one can know the burdens each person is carrying.


Conflict Resolution

It would be nice if everyone always got along, but the workplace offers special challenges. Some people position for advantage and power. Some won’t pull their weight.  Some people prefer drama and gossip. Some lack integrity. And, sometimes personalities clash.

When conflict does arise in the workplace, here are some successful strategies to manage it:

  1. Giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. Often, conflict arises from simple misunderstandings. Try not to prejudge or assign motives.
  2. Respecting themselves and their right to be heard.
  3. Striving for mutual understanding, sharing perspectives respectfully, and agreeing to disagree if their positions are irreconcilable.


Creativity and Resourcefulness

As I share in my “How to Be an MVP Employee” DVD, one of the keys for career advancement is building value in the eyes of an employer. That means not only delivering excellent job performance, but also contributing to the overall success of the organization. It means going above and beyond the job description with initiative and creativity to improve results.

“Workplace MVPs” build their value by:

  1. Improving revenues (increasing sales and customer loyalty)
  2. Reducing costs and improving organizational efficiency
  3. Innovating (developing new products, services, or procedures)
  4. Leading high impact projects that contribute to the success of the enterprise


Importantly, each of these soft skills applies to our personal lives as well, and it’s never too soon to start building them. How would the teens you know fare in these skill areas? Yourself? Stay tuned for Part Three next week!

Building Workplace Readiness Skills: Part One

We’ve heard the stories all too often. You have your own stories, no doubt, but here are some of mine:

  • My friend, a corporate executive, was preparing to interview five finalists for a new position; only one showed up on time. (Guess who landed the job?)
  • Another employer was recruiting at a career fair on a college campus. Based on first impressions and conversations with graduating seniors, not a single student was invited in for an interview.
  • A local restaurant owner received a call from an “ill” teenage employee five minutes before start time, yet fifteen minutes later she was posting pictures of herself at a beach party. It cost her the job.

You might think these are exceptional cases, but we hear stories like this all the time from employers of teens and young adults. As accomplished as young workers may be academically or otherwise, far too many are not workplace ready.

As the marketplace becomes more competitive, are we actually regressing at launching real world-ready graduates from our homes and schools? Many agree and point to such contributors as ineffective parenting, lack of whole person training in schools, and high youth unemployment rates.

This is why I’ve been encouraged by the work at the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia and CTECS (Career and Technical Education Consortium of States), who have taken proactive steps to turn the tide. They surveyed employers to identify their most valued workplace readiness skills, and their conclusions, summarized here, establish 21 Workplace Readiness Skills (WRS) for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

[After reviewing the WRS list, we were gratified to learn that our What I Wish I Knew at 18 curriculum (including our “How to Be an MVP Employee” DVD) address 14 of these 21 employer-based skills! You can see how our lessons and success pointers align to these WRS here.]

At LifeSmart, we want to contribute to this crucial conversation by sharing some thoughts on ten of these important skills, starting this week with “Work Ethic” and “Integrity.” We hope you’ll follow along in our series and share your ideas as we go!

Work Ethic   

Fresh out of college, Joe arrives at his new job with visions of grandeur—perhaps a corner office with a great view. Then reality hits—his new work station is a bite-sized interior cubicle. Feeling disgraced, he delivers an inferior product and doesn’t last long.
How can we help the “Joes” we know—whether as students, mentees, or children in our home? Parents can help by instilling the intrinsic value of hard work, avoiding doing their work for them (including homework!), and by not condoning efforts that are clearly lacking.

Educators can help by being mindful of how grade inflation is affecting work ethic and creating attitudes of entitlement. Our colleges and employers are increasingly dealing with both, as students feel “deserving” of special considerations and concessions.

The bottom line: A strong work ethic builds dependability—an essential leadership quality.


“We may not always be loved, but we must always be trusted.” This saying is so true! Integrity is one of the most important qualities (arguably number one!) that make up one’s “personal brand.” It’s very difficult to recover from a damaged reputation, and a lack of integrity is often the cause.


Here are five attributes of a person of integrity:

  1. They always tell the truth and call out the untruths of others.
  2. They own up to their mistakes and shortfalls.
  3. They uphold high ethical standards, both personally and professionally.
  4. They keep their promises.
  5. They keep their communications about others neutral or positive (especially those who are not present).


Whether we’re educators, parents, or mentors, we all have opportunities to incorporate these vital skills into our training of this generation. As you consider those under your guidance, how do they fare on these 21 skills? How might you help address the gaps?


Playing the Blame Game Won’t Help You Win


Consider this scenario: It’s finals week, and you’ve spent the last few days cramming like mad. Deep down, you know you should have started studying earlier in the month, but with intramural football, that new video game, spontaneous trips to the beach, and Netflix parties with your friends, there just wasn’t enough time. Although you’re doing all the “right things” now by highlighting your reading and going over old quizzes, you’re rushed and anxious.  It’s no surprise, then, to see a disappointing C- at the top of your paper. Regrettably, you know you could have done better.

So, what now? Do you take issue with the professor or teacher, complaining that the questions were too hard? Do you accuse him or her of biased grading, or being out to get you? Do you compare your test to those of classmates who earned better grades? Worse yet, do you recruit your parents to petition on your behalf?!?

Or, do you take personal responsibility for your grade and accept the fact that you underprepared? Will you own the outcome?

We call this topic “Accepting Personal Responsibility for Our Mistakes and Shortfalls.” And believe me, it’s no easy feat. However, it’s a sign of maturity and a hallmark of a true leader. Being able to put complaints, self-pity, and the desire to blame others for a negative outcome aside is a sign of integrity and self-awareness. Moreover, accepting responsibility causes us to live with an accurate perspective of reality.

Blame shifting and negative behavior justification distorts our reality—causing us to live in a world where we believe we do no wrong. It’s rooted in insecurity, and it affects our decision making, job performance, academic achievements, relationships, and more. Everyone else screws up but us, right? Wrong! The real reality is that we all mess up but have the capacity to accept the consequences and learn from our mistakes.

Refusing to own up to our shortfalls creates a blind spot in our lives—one that may cause us to miss out on great opportunities. That professor who was “biased” against you? She could have turned out to be a great tutor. The coach who you were convinced benched you every game because he “didn’t like you?” He could have been a great personal trainer and helped you up your game. That classmate who was “jealous of you?” She could have helped you become a better friend.

The long and short of it is this: as we grow into well-rounded, confident, and contributing members of society, it’s crucial that we accept responsibility for our mistakes and shortfalls. Although it may seem difficult at the time, this practice will make us better friends, employees, players, and students who have an accurate and healthy view of ourselves and the world around us. Humility and self-awareness are of high value, so start this practice now!

Can you think of a situation where you stood up and took responsibility for your actions? What good came from it? If you are a parent, teacher, or mentor, consider taking some time to sit down with your teen and talk through real-world examples of accepting responsibility for poor choices.

Building Likeability Skills in Our Students

ID-10062570Although Valentine’s Day is all about love, this week we’re taking it down a notch to celebrate like—specifically, likeability! The fact is, likeability is a hallmark of successful people and an especially valuable social skill to nurture in our students. In fact, when it comes to landing a job, it’s often the deal breaker in who receives the offer (and even who wins the Presidential election!).

For some, likeability comes naturally; for others, not so much—especially when they enter new environments like college and career settings and social gatherings. Whether it’s from inexperience, low self confidence, or inadequate training, many struggle with social awkwardness (e.g., withdrawing, coming on too strong, demonstrating poor manners, and being blind to the social cues of others). Unfortunately, these tendencies can overshadow the otherwise great qualities of a person.

We’ve all been in challenging social settings and it’s never fun. But, the good news is that likeability skills can be learned with proper training and experience. To that end, I came across an excellent article written by Travis Bradberry at, “13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People,” which you can access here.

Here’s a list of his 13 habits, which are spot on:

  1. They ask questions
  2. They put away their phones
  3. They are genuine
  4. They don’t pass judgment
  5. They don’t seek attention
  6. They are consistent
  7. They use positive body language
  8. They leave a strong first impression
  9. They greet people by name
  10. They smile
  11. They know when to open up
  12. They know who to touch (and they touch them)
  13. They balance passion and fun

I encourage you to read the entire article as Travis elaborates on these important behaviors. If you are an educator, parent, or mentor, these make for fabulous small group discussions and (especially) role plays. Practice situations where they act out each of these 13 habits—both positively and negatively. This will not only train them how to model likeability, but it will also build awareness of important social cues like body language.

Likeability is a huge factor in successful relationship building. What additions would you make to the list?

photo:, jannoon028