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Volume 23 No. 28
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Important skills to master: Communication, empathy, creativity

Over the last few weeks, timed to graduations and people hitting the job market, we’ve talked to a number of executives about tips in networking and relationship-building/development. Here, we focus on skill set.

I asked what one skill set people look for in young people today. Here are their responses, edited for clarity and brevity.

Harvey Schiller, president of sports, media and entertainment, Diversified Search: Always “listen and learn.” My research director once told me: “If you listen and read carefully enough, you will always have a better idea.”

Patrick Sandusky, chief external affairs officer, U.S. Olympic Committee: Show you are willing to take on any task and do any job. Proving that you don’t think you are above even the most menial tasks goes a long way to showing you are a team player. Everyone had to earn their stripes, and if you really want to work somewhere, you need to, too.

Brian Gordon, CEO at Engine Shop: Ability to problem solve, written and verbal communication skills, and an understanding of what it means to be a part of a team. If an employee possesses these skills, we’re able to teach and train to the job.

Mike Boykin, CEO, Bespoke Sports and Entertainment: Teammates who have exceptional verbal and written communication skills. We cannot teach a winning, team attitude; poor attitude affects other teammates and eats up time, our most valuable commodity. We want givers and not takers.

Don Yee, agent and partner, Yee & Dubin Sports: Develop the ability to step into the other person’s shoes. If you can get really good at trying to understand the other person’s viewpoint on a deeper level, you’ll learn more, empathize more, and develop a broader world and professional view. If one develops this ability, problem-solving becomes much easier because you’ll understand what is important to every constituency you’re dealing with. I rarely come across this skill because most everyone is only thinking about themselves, unfortunately. But when I do run across someone who possesses this skill, it is a very special thing to see in action.

Rick Jones, founder/CEO, FishBait Marketing: Empathy. The ability to see everyone and every situation from the other’s perspective. Reading the room/reading the situation and adapting to that will prove to be valuable in the long run.

Valerie Camillo, chief revenue and marketing officer, Washington Nationals: Know what is going on in the world. Be able to speak fluently on current events. This will be a great asset with senior executives. True intelligence is hard to ascertain in a brief meeting or conversation. A person’s “smarts” is often assumed based on their knowledge of the topics that pop up — and these often involve current events. Whenever a young person asks me what self-help or business book they should read to advance their careers, I tell them to instead invest their time reading the front page of the newspaper every day. I encourage them to understand what is going on in the world of politics, global events, and business, and know the latest trends in pop culture and entertainment.

Charles Davis, football analyst, Fox Sports: It isn’t a skill. It’s a mindset, a mantra: Refuse to be outworked. I firmly believe it’s why I have been fortunate enough to stay in my current profession. I may not be the most talented, but I REFUSE TO BE OUTWORKED. I learned work ethic from so many, but it was really cemented by the year that I roomed with Coach Jon Gruden. … He didn’t just tell me to outwork people, he showed me how.

Bill Goodwyn, president/CEO, Discovery Education: I encourage young people to approach their work every day with a sense of energy, passion and purpose. It’s not so much a skill, but a mindset. If you find yourself in an environment where you aren’t able to tap into that spark, it may be time to make a change. It’s three words: Find. Your. Passion.

Rob Butcher, president/CEO, Swim Across America: Routinely evaluate and prioritize your values. Your values will be your compass for making wise decisions. At different points in your life, you will be faced with life-changing decisions. How do you know when to take a job or let it pass? It depends on your values. Do you believe in the company? Do you have respect for the management team? Do you feel like you can grow in their culture? Will it be good for your family? All based on your values.

Allen Hershkowitz, president, Green Sports Alliance: Be a good presenter. Become a good speaker and a good writer. I can teach almost anyone about technology or science, but finding someone with good, compelling and empathic presentation skills is rare. Virtually all highly successful people are good presenters. If you can’t present information clearly, then others are likely to doubt whether you understand the subject. Good presenters are never boring. Speak from the heart. Look into people’s eyes. Connect. Tell the truth. Clearly and concisely answer the question being asked. Be authentic.

Pete Guelli, executive vice president, Charlotte Hornets: Do everything possible to develop your communication skills. No matter how brilliant you might be, if you can’t articulate or express your thoughts, it is very difficult to be successful in this business. I have been around a number of bright people that have been held back by their inability to communicate effectively.

Seth Abraham, former president, HBO Sports and Madison Square Garden: Know how to write … intelligently. Oral communication is important but fades quickly for the most part. Written communication is permanent and leaves a record on how one thinks, reasons, persuades, dissuades, builds consensus and says much about the author.

Jessica Gelman, vice president of customer marketing and strategy, Kraft Sports Group: Be curious. Business and life evolve quickly, so constantly be learning and educating yourself. There will always be new technologies, new analytic tools, and new ideas for managing your life. Find ways to learn.

Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor, sports management, George Washington University: Be a risk taker. Take a job in a city where you don’t know anyone or a position that may not be ideal but will offer experience and growth opportunities. Say yes to offers even if you may not feel qualified or comfortable. You do not need to have all the answers, but the skills and fortitude to problem solve. The important thing is to always be open and enthusiastic about all opportunities as you never know where they will lead you. Get there and figure it out.

Issa Sawabini, partner, Fuse: Creative problem solving; emphasis on creative. Everyone faces challenges in life and on the job — they will all require you to use a combination of focus, flexibility, creativity, decisiveness and intelligence. Stay calm under pressure, think about the solutions, weigh the options and act. Remember that sometimes it takes an unexpected solution to solve an unforeseen problem.

Sarah Hirshland, senior managing director of business affairs, U.S. Golf Association: Be curious. The insatiable need to know more, to understand why, to uncover how, and to diagnose every situation is a recipe for continued growth and improvement. I wish I had a patent on a curiosity pill.

Ben Milsom, chief ticketing officer, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Patience. The question that I’m always asked is, “When can I expect to be promoted?” So often in our business, people get hired, have early success and hope to get a promotion every year or so. Having patience and trust in the mentors in life can really help young professionals get a long-term perspective on their career.

Brian Cooper, president/CEO, S&E Sponsorship Group: It is less of a skill and more of an attitude: Learn to embrace and be comfortable with ambiguity. Those who can, particularly early in their careers, develop the problem-solving skill set, resourcefulness and confidence to embrace the opportunities associated with a “blank page,” rather than get bogged down by a lack of direction or “I’ve never done that before” mindset, will be best set up to succeed in the long term.

Jessica Berman, vice president, NHL: Be present. As we go through life, our plates continue to get full with things that will compete for your attention. Thinking about something else while you are doing something will only diminish your output and make the people with whom you are engaged feel that you are not focused on them. Focus on what you are doing and everything else “on the list” will be there afterward.

There are a couple of elements at play for me here. Outside of honesty and integrity, I’ve always been struck by comportment: How a person handles oneself in an initial meeting or follow-up. I look for simple things: eye contact, firm handshake, energy, excitement, enthusiasm and a smile. As longtime sports executive John McDonough told me, “Be interesting and be interested.” I like people who ask questions about our business, our values and our philosophies and who share their story with color and detail. And then it comes down to simple work ethic. As many said here, that means the ability to understand that nothing is beneath you, the willingness to do whatever it takes to get a job done, and the understanding of working together as a team and picking up and covering for a teammate when they need help. Give me those as starters any day, and we can build on the rest.

Thanks to all who have shared their thoughts and comments during this process, and please feel free to offer your ideas as well as any topics you believe should be explored in the future.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.