Kristina Barbee is a Senior Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton.  Throughout her career, she has filled a number of sales, marketing, communication, and leadership roles.  Serving in these roles has given Kristina an invaluable perspective on the importance of soft skills.  In fact, based on what she’s observed over the years, Kristina has changed her perspective in the way she views soft skills and now refers to them as “power skills.”

At our first mentoring event of the year, Mrs. Barbee shared her perspective with about 40 Women in Defense members eager to learn from a very gifted leader. Mrs. Barbee began by asking the group for words that come to mind when we think of “soft skills.”  Most of the responses could be summed up as communication skills, interpersonal skills, and attitude.

Then, that question was followed up by a discussion on words that describe “power skills” and the responses could not have been more different: leadership, engineering, self-confidence.  Kristina pointed out that although our responses suggest contrasting meanings for soft skills versus power skills, they’re actually the same and our first mistake is assuming them to be different. She expressed that referring to these important attributes as “soft skills” suggests that they are not an important requirement in the performance of our jobs.

If we consider that the definition of soft skills is, “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people,” we see how powerful they really are.  For example, as leaders, whether in a leadership role or as a teammate, modeling the way means recognizing your own weaknesses and being open to receiving constructive criticism from others.

”We have to help our teams see the value and use power skills in a meaningful way to make them succeed,” she said.

Part of that role involves encouraging your team to step out of their comfort zone and let them know that you believe in them and you are giving them the opportunity to fail in a safe environment.

Kristina explained that one of the reasons we typically don’t view soft skills as power skills is because women have been taught to focus on the math, engineering and other technical skills and to take the emotion out of their jobs.  The problem with this approach is that women are really good at the emotional skills such as nurturing, empathizing, and connecting that can be incredibly valuable to others. 

Finally, Mrs. Barbee encouraged us that the most effective way to harness the power skills in our teams is to model the way you want your team to be and to be likable in the process so they will want to be like you – now that’s powerful!

One helpful method she shared with us for giving feedback was the SBIR process, which incorporates positive reinforcement with constructive criticism.

Situation – When did they do it?

Behavior – What did they do?

Impact – How did it affect the situation?

Request – What should they do moving forward?

Thank you, Kristina, for sharing your expertise, tips, and insight on power skills, and for facilitating an incredible discussion with attendees!