Safety Matters: Why Career Pathways Puts Soft Skills First

Tuesday, October 11, 2022 - 1:27 pm
May Leong

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of participating in the Spring 2022 Career Pathways cohort. Prior to this spring, I had completed three other executive leadership programs. On the first day of Career Pathways Learning Session One, while reviewing the curriculum, we were asked what might be missing. For the first time, I realized that none of the executive trainings I participated in had included the topic of safety as an important tool or skill set to develop for leadership excellence.

While every program I’ve been involved with created safety for its participants during the workshops, it was not a skill set that leaders were explicitly asked to explore or use. We covered other important topics like learning how to read financial reports, how to run effective meetings, or how to implement a crisis communications plan. But the idea of safety as an important element of leadership success seemed to be missing.

Safety is something not to be underestimated. It is a powerful tool, and developing the skill set to create safety in the workplace takes as much work as honing the skills needed for strategic and effective fundraising. In other words, there is no one template that someone can use in all settings to create a feeling of safety. Creating and maintaining safety in the workplace whether in a 1:1 meeting, team working sessions, or all-staff gatherings requires thoughtfulness, attention, flexibility, and constant practice. It also necessitates developing trust, goodwill, vulnerability, and grace: all characteristics of leadership that some may call “soft skills.” However, the lack of these soft skills can translate into hard experiences for employees. The absence of safety results in hidden barriers to people bringing their best selves to work. Nothing destroys goodwill, trust, and confidence like a shortage of safety in the workplace.

During the first session of Career Pathways, our cohort bonded very quickly because the Council on Foundations staff intentionally built safety into and throughout the program. What I most valued and enjoyed was the willingness of my cohort to keep safety at the forefront of our work together in large group meetings, small outbreak teams, and with our assigned career coaches.

I knew beforehand that I would greatly benefit from Career Pathways because of the design of the program: bring together smart people and give them the space to ask for help, give advice, and share stories. Then, add expert speakers whose own experiences and questions inspired each of us to look at the powerful lessons we could bring back to our workplaces and acknowledge which skills we needed to practice to further develop our own leadership.

The Career Pathways program involves a lot of time and work. However, if you’re willing to put in the effort, you will thrive as a result. From the people you get to meet and network with, to the space to learn and grow, you’ll experience an example of what safety looks like and learn why it’s an important tool for any executive who aspires to excellence.

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