What are life skills, anyway? I like the definition from UNICEF: “Life skills are defined as psychosocial abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.” These life skills include cognitive skills for analyzing and using information, personal skills for managing oneself as well as interpersonal skills for communicating and interacting effectively with others — all critical to your success as a leader and entrepreneur.
While our parents are typically the ones to teach us life skills, there are others out there who can provide lessons about life skills. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is one of these people whose public experience taught me about what it really means to achieve success. Here are seven life skills that I learned from him, and how you can apply them to your own career:
- Equanimity. This is a fancy way of saying that Zuckerberg doesn’t lose his cool when he’s under pressure or in a stressful situation. Instead, he calmly approaches even the most difficult situations because anger doesn’t breed success — it only serves to alienate or give the impression that someone feels they don’t have control over a situation. Developing this equanimity has helped improve my relationships with employees and colleagues while providing a way to think more clearly about the critical problem or pressures in front of me.
- Critical thinking. Zuckerberg has noted his interest in always going deeper with an issue or idea in order to really make a difference, be disruptive and maximize the value. As he once said, “I got my first computer in the 6th grade or so. As soon as I got it, I was interested in finding out how it worked and how the programs worked and then figuring out how to write programs at just deeper and deeper levels within the system.” I could see that success only comes from taking the time to think more critically rather than just accepting the first idea that comes to mind.
- Problem-solving. Zuckerberg has always focused on solving problems. As he noted in a biography about him, “The question I ask myself like almost every day is, ‘Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?’ Unless I feel like I’m working on the most important problem that I can help with, then I’m not going to feel good about how I’m spending my time.” I knew that, at the heart of every business I considered creating, there had to be a relevant problem that needed solving to help a consumer or a business.
- Effective communication. While many leaders leave employee communication to others on the team, Zuckerberg has always taken on this role himself. In creating a company that increases communication and interaction between people, it makes sense that he would also take this approach with his employees. Many of those who have worked at Facebook note how he is always walking around, talking to everyone, asking questions and getting to know them personally. When I tried this for myself, I realized how much more willing my team members were to share what was going on, how they felt, and voice any ideas they had for making changes. Keeping open communication with your team not only builds trust but can also help you be a more effective leader.
- Assertiveness. Zuckerberg is not interested in following or doing things on other people’s terms. As he noted in a Wired Magazine interview, “Sometimes we are going to do stuff that’s controversial, and we’re going to make mistakes. We have to be willing to take risks.” It’s this attitude that proves how a product, service, company and brand can make strides in completely changing an industry. Success doesn’t come from worrying about how something will work; instead, you just have to jump in and do it.
- Mindfulness: Zuckerberg doesn’t let his critics get to him. I learned that the ability to ignore the noise around me has helped me to use the energy I would have wasted on worrying about what others thought of me. I use it to fuel creativity, innovation and actions that have furthered my business success. Taking a mindful approach to what you want to accomplish — and blocking out the rest — is critical.
- Vision. In recent years, Zuckerberg has become more involved in shaping the global business landscape, illustrating that he is more than just a “one-hit wonder.” His recent address at the United Nations noted the need to expand Internet access to developing nations, illustrating his interest in the future of human rights and social issues. Zuckerberg has also met with country leaders as part of his vision for shaping future generations and helping tackle various global social problems. I value his leadership style and encourage those working in technology to follow suit in taking on a bigger role in real-world issues, rather than relying on politicians to do it for us.
Altering your own thinking, behaviors and actions accordingly can help you deliver positive results.