Millennials Fill the Soft Skills Gap

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Below is an article referenced by Executive Command advanced leadership development programs.

Chief Learning Officer magazine recently published an interview regarding the soft skill deficiency in Millennials. The interview is with April Davis, CEO of Cupid’s Cronies. The essence of the interview is that Gen Y doesn’t have effective communication skills. This is an interesting observation considering communication is the glue that connects leaders and the people following them.

Argument Advantage – Gain Credibility by Defending Your Ideas

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New article posted on LinkedIn Pulse!

Besides achieving results, the next sign of a leader’s value is their ability to articulate – and effectively defend – their ideas. Resources, authority, and reputation can be won or lost in a moment’s notice. Here are some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to help you this master this critical, but too often ignored, skill for leaders: argument. Gain the #argumentadvantage!


Don’t think you can avoid it. Leadership is about influencing others to achieve goals – and you are not the only one doing it. Disputes over perspectives or solutions naturally surface. If you can’t defend your ideas when they are challenged, especially against fallacious reasoning or specious objections, then your credibility as a leader will be diminished.

Don’t think of argument as a zero-sum contest. Rarely do people “win.” Most times an argument is the opportunity for you to demonstrate your certainty, confidence and competence as a leader. Opposing perspectives clash, different sides are presented and others judge each position on its substance and accuracy. Think of argument as your time to shine in front of your peers and/or bosses.

Don’t think you MUST always be right. Think of argument as an opportunity to arrive at the best solution possible. You should say to yourself prior to engaging: “I must now calmly and clearly articulate my position while withstanding scrutiny. If I’m correct, great. If not, then I will acquiesce to positions that appear to be more correct or appropriate than mine.” It is this type of intellectual honesty that encourages people to speak up; it also compels others to engage and contribute.

Don’t engage every argument. Knowing when to challenge another’s position is important to your credibility as a leader; knowing when not to argue is invaluable for the simple reason you risk being exposed, intellectually and emotionally. Some arguments are nothing more than pretenses by one party to demonstrate their alpha status (whether actual or desired). Some arguments are just a waste of everyone’s time. Knowing when to maintain silence when others are unnecessary provoking conflicts is a sign of self-control. It is signals you have a focus on what is important versus what is not.

Don’t buy the simplistic image of argument propagated today. There is an art and science to defending your ideas. For instance, natural behaviors influence your manner of arguing. Many “global” thinkers who prefer speed in decision-making unsurprisingly gravitate toward the “direct” approach – the methodology that seeks the “decisive victory” in the quickest manner possible. In industries where rapid decisions are required this approach is advantageous; where risk tolerance is low, this type will appear reckless, if not a liability.


Do understand the purpose of argument. Contrary to the cringe-worthy image of people screaming at one another in a heated exchange, argument indeed has a positive function. If done correctly and constructively, argument becomes a healthy form of intellectual Darwinism. Two or more conflicting ideas or solutions are proposed. Resistance is met and the viability of each is tested. If the ideas withstand scrutiny (rational and irrational) then they become legitimate alternatives. And everyone wins when alternatives exist.

Do understand that preparation for an argument often prevents it. If you are not clear in your communication (and thus your thinking) then expect to be challenged. Anticipate emotions and tempers to kick in as defensive mechanisms. Here argument earns its unpleasant reputation. The irony of preparing to argue is that you decrease the likelihood of it actually happening. The reason is that clarity and precision of your ideas will be carried in your communication, which in turn reduces the ambiguity of your message (which is a significant cause of unnecessary arguments). However, if your message is clear and you are challenged, then you will be prepared! The burden will then fall on your challenger, requiring him or her to provide a feasible alternative to your thought-out solution.

Do understand vague communication signifies unclear thinking. One simple rule to help you gain clarity in your thoughts is to look for nuances in your ideas. Articulating a simple, seemingly harmless distinction between two similar ideas or notions can make an enormous difference in understanding your message. For instance, two words that are often used interchangeably in business strategy are maximization and optimization. Both translate into the usage of resources, yet optimization implies minimum or zero waste.

Do understand the burden of proof. The person who asserts an idea or proposition has the sole obligation to prove it. For example, if you propose a solution, you must back it up. Your audience has to only listen. This fundamental of logic applies to others. If another person’s solution lacks clarity or sound logic, and in desperation they demand you disprove their point, you can easily reply, “This is your proposal. The burden is on you. I didn’t bring it up.”

Do look for a dual benefit in argument. Just as both sides win in a business-employee relationship (you exchange your talents for a paycheck and the ability to professionally grow) the same is true in argument. The organization gains better solutions from the fact that ideas are challenged. The best ones are validated and the unnecessary risks are exposed. You benefit as well. On a personal level your certainty and self-confidence is boosted; on a professional level you demonstrate yourself to be competent as both a professional and as a leader.


There’s an old adage that translates, if you want peace, prepare for war. This counter-intuitive advice is true of argument. By doing your due diligence as a leader, in terms of thinking and communicating your ideas effectively, you reduce chances of being challenged, at least for unnecessary reasons. Moreover, you will build your credibility by contributing quality solutions; you will also greatly strengthen it by constructively defending them. Demonstrate your value as leader by gaining the #argumentadvantage!


Kevin Black (@kevinblack99) is the Principal and Founder of Executive Command (@execcommand), a learning and development company in Arizona that offers an elite leadership education to high-potential leaders. His online course on advanced communication, ARGUMENT ADVANTAGE: GAIN CREDIBILITY BY DEFENDING YOUR IDEAS (#argumentadvantage), is available on Enroll now to get lifetime access!! Redeem a 20% discount for being a LinkedIn member. Use the following code: LINKEDIN20.

Increasing your value as a leader Executive Command

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By Kevin Black This is my most recent article at ExpertBeacon. Recognizing that helping their organization achieve its goals is a means of improving personal success, leaders should have one fundamental question in mind, “How can I increase my value to the organization?” Volumes of literature exists to support thinking about this question. This article provides you five simple, time-tested Dos and Don’ts.

The DOs

Do gain self-awareness Identifying and understanding your strengths in leadership, communication, and planning is indispensable for the simple reason that you know what you are good at. More importantly, however, you become cognizant of what you are not comfortable with, or proficient in. This knowledge help you avoid unnecessary risk-taking. Do think and act strategically “Why” is the most important word you that you can pronounce in a leadership position. By identifying the purpose of a task, goal or objective, you are in a better position to link it to higher goals in the organization; likewise, you can rightfully dismiss them if no link exists. Overall, asking “why” is the means of ensuring the efficacious allocation of time and resources. Do project optimism, especially during difficult times Nothing can kill progress more than a defeatist attitude. An overt pessimism is contagious, and will ultimately act to rationalize setbacks or poor performance. You must project confidence no matter what. Peers and colleagues will recall your steadfastness, especially during challenges when they felt overwhelmed or panicked. Do constantly develop yourself and team Learn from other’s mistakes. Educate yourself in order to make life easier. Make every team activity a learning lesson. After a team assignment, sit everyone down and walk through the previous planning and implementation phases. Ask questions about decision-making. Enable the team to learn from their successes as well as their failures. Do know your value Anyone can push buttons, pull levers, or accomplish tasks; not everywhere, however, can consciously create value. Look for the 2nd or 3rd order of effects from your accomplishments. What did the organization gain in the long run from your previous assignment? Who else benefited from your success? This type of personal worth assessment will help boost your rational self-confidence as a leader. It is this type of positive expression that acts as a model for others in the organization to emulate.

The Don’ts

Do not get mired in the “weeds” of everyday activities Every time you lose sight of the bigger picture you reduce your return on investment to the organization. Differentiate between what is essential in your sphere of control and what is not. Delegate your non-essentials to leaders who should be responsible for them in the first place. Do not think success begins and ends with your own team Organizations are like a ships out to sea, each slowly progressing toward its ultimate destination. If challenges arise (and they always does) one person’s success coupled with others’ failures inevitably produce the same outcome: everyone goes down with the ship. Do your best to reach out and support your colleagues, especially across different functions. This type of cross-functional support will not only bolster your reputation but your business competency as well. Do not do everything yourself Consciously develop the discipline of “trust, but verify.” A very bad precedent is set once you give the impression that nothing can work effectively without you. There is no better way to kill personal initiative and to poison the culture than to treat employees like children. You’ll help to decrease your personal and your team’s effectiveness, all the while decreasing everyone’s probability of long-term success. Do not fear telling people the truth The most direct remark I ever heard was when a senior executive said to his new, underperforming director, “If this is your best how do I get my money back?” Too many young leaders today don’t seem to understand that organizations have limited means, i.e., their capital is finite. Hard truths sting a lot less than firings and unemployment. Do not forget who you work for You work for the shareholders, or the people who have invested their money, time and their life’s security into your organization. A loyalty to ensure the best decisions for the organization is far more important than any personal loyalty. Your credibility as a leader will manifest itself by producing value and not by protecting personalities or agendas. Summary By supporting the organization in achieving its goals, the leader simultaneously improves his own personal and professional worth. It is not an easy task given all the alternative techniques and methods available in modern leadership studies. The Dos and Don’ts provided above are simple, time-tested and true. Grasping them will help all other questions of nuance simply fall into place.

Summer Essay: “The Strategic Utility of Space and People”

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By Kevin Black

I recently participated in an essay contest by  The three best essays would be required reading in DS470: Military Strategy in the Defense & Strategic Studies Program at West Point.  Of the 21 questions available to answer I chose Question #7: “How do geography and demographics impact a nation’s grand and military strategic choices?”

Even though this is a military themed topic, the material is pertinent to business leaders.  The central take-away is the influence of peripheral forces on strategy development.  For example, the relationship between sellers and strategic partners will indirectly influence how strategy is interpreted and developed.   So, here is the essay.


The New Art of the Leader

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By Kevin Black

I read The New Art of the Leader by William A. Cohen several years ago. Here are some notes I took down that I thought I would share. All are self-explanatory except No. 4.

Seven Facts to Know Before you Lead:
1. One person can make a difference between success and failure
2. Success comes from the help of others
3. You don’t need to be a manager to be a leader
4. The Combat Model is the most basic model
5. Essence of leadership: motivate people to perform their maximum potential to achieve goals as objectives
6. Leaders are not born
7. Good leadership doesn’t depend on good deals or pleasant working conditions

Reason & RTS Games

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By Kevin Black

Executive Command has been using real-time strategy games as a learning delivery system for nearly ten years now. It is a very effective model to introduce not only complex strategic leader competencies (such as strategic thinking and communication) but also the most appropriate means of balancing them. You can probably guess our pleasant reaction to reading the following in Reason magazine.

“What researchers found is that participants engaged in ‘real-time strategy’ gaming…improved their cognitive flexibility. That is to say, they got better at switching between thinking about different concepts, and at thinking about multiple concepts simultaneously”

Here’s the link.

Supreme Command: Ben-Gurion & Common Sense

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David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister of Israel, ’48-’54

By Kevin Black

Our age of specialization has in some respects overshadowed the value of the generalist. This shouldn’t be a surprise considering the sophisticated,  technological age we live in. For instance, to be a “business strategist” today requires a qualifier, signifying an expertise in a particular field, such as marketing, sales, or IT. What about the general business strategist? Isn’t this the professional who integrates all of the input of the experts? And by what technical right can this person legitimately tell an expert what to do or what not to do? David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister of Israel, who is the fourth statesmen presented in Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesman, and Leadership in Wartime, provides an interesting and helpful perspective.

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