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Robin Smith

If one works with various aspects of the private and public sector through business, health care, sports and politics, one notices a consistent need is present, and sadly, unmet. There are a few skills that, if mastered and used, serve as a critical foundation for developing a reputation of dependability and competence — regardless of job, career, personal endeavor or station in life.

Please appreciate that hard skills, such as literacy, computation, technological know-how and information application, will change as workforce needs respond to our ever-changing economy and work complexity. Being a lifetime learner is the new normal to remain gainfully employed.

Contrast the hard skills to soft skills that form the bedrock on which those hard skills operate. Those traits actually require little to no talent:

- Demonstrate an authentic effort. Activity is not a substitute for work.

- Be on time. Be a respecter of others' time.

- Demonstrate a strong work ethic. Be focused, remain on task, finish a task and work with others.

- Employ an attitude of accomplishment. Approach your work with commitment, ownership.

- Wear your professionalism. Body language and demeanor are as evident as your clothing.

- Exceed expectations. Don't expect raises or praise when you never give extra.

- Show passion and energy. Displaying these traits, or lack thereof, frames your work or lack thereof.

- Prepare. One can work and produce or just show up. There is a difference.

- Accept coaching. Receiving and responding to constructive feedback separates those capable of advancement and those who are not.

Ask a teacher with a classroom of third-graders if those characteristics make a difference in early academic achievement. Ask that same teacher if those characteristics modeled by parents in the home make a difference. Talk to any human resources director in any line of work to confirm if those soft skills affect an individual's performance in the workplace and how those contribute to solid teams and outcomes.

How are those traits taught or learned?

In Australia, public schools began teaching "soft skills" as part of school curriculum alongside English, the sciences and math. Citing the need for students "to be successful throughout their lives," schools down under see the value of these skills in academics as well as overall development.

James J. Heckman of the University of Chicago's Department of Economics links improved life outcomes such as higher employment rates and lower rates of crime to soft skills. He says "soft skills predict success in life, they produce that success, and programs that enhance soft skills have an important place in an effective portfolio of public policies."

Those traits will develop in our schoolchildren when they're first modeled at home by parents. No talent is required to be on time. No educational certificate is necessary to work hard or go the extra mile. No pedigreed family lineage is required to show up with an attitude ready to complete a task with pride and ownership.

Whether eight, 18, 80 or anywhere in between, every person is capable of mastering those skills.

Those with talent shine. But those with the personal discipline, composure and a mindset to grow and work with diligence are life's winners.

Robin Smith, former chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, owns Rivers Edge Alliance.