Sunday, December 13, 2009

Benjamin Franklin's Greatest Soft Skills

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing.” - Benjamin Franklin

Usually we find leaders like Alexander the Great and Abraham Lincoln doing extraordinary things but not writing enough intellectual material during their lifetime. We also find philosophers like Socrates and Plato not doing extraordinary things but writing lot of intellectual material leaving for the mankind to think and practice. However, Benjamin Franklin (Ben) was one of the few exceptional leaders in the world who was not only a writer leaving lot of intellectual contributions to the mankind but also did extraordinary things in various capacities in his lifetime providing lot of space for others to write about him. Ben was blend of both words and deeds.

Ben’s character has been built on the virtues and values crafted by him. He followed all these throughout his life. The list of these skills can be called as soft skills in the contemporary context. These skills can also be called as employability skills as every employer looks for these virtues and values.

Every recruiter looks for certain values, virtues, skills and abilities in potential recruits. The expectations and requirements of the employers are rising with the rapid growth in technology. Although technology is a boon to mankind it has become a bane as well due to the rising complexities and uncertainties in the world. The organizations are constantly innovating and evolving themselves in order to stay ahead of others. It is possible only through right selection of people who have basic virtues and values apart from skills and abilities. In this context, it is essential to explain briefly about Benjamin Franklin’s biography.

Ben’s Brief Biography (1706-1790 AD):

“For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise.” - Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1706. He was a multifaceted personality who had the uncanny ability to write as well as to achieve successfully. He was a soldier, writer, thinker, inventor, statesman and politician. He was one of the founding fathers of America. Ben was ambitious and intent on self-improvement right from his childhood. He learnt throughout his life. He invented stove, lightning rod and bifocal lens

Because of his multifaceted personality Franklin has been honored on coinage and currency. Many educational institutions, organizations and places have been named after him because of his outstanding contributions in various capacities. His photo appears on postal stamps as well is a tribute to this legendary leader. Franklin was awarded with honorary degrees in 1753 by both Harvard and Yale University. He was also awarded with honorary doctorate by Oxford University in 1762 for his scientific accomplishments.

Ben was fondly called as Dr. Franklin. He was curious about the things around him. He published ‘Poor Richard’s Almanac’ under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders. His writings influenced many including Andrew Carnegie and Dale Carnegie. He was the brainchild behind self-improvement and personality development books. He was the first American to write autobiography. Ben died on 17 April 1790 leaving trail behind for the mankind.

Ben’s Soft Skills:

“Those disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory, sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them.” - Benjamin Franklin

He had passion for learning and growing. He rightly quoted, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” He always championed to open up minds and be receptive to new ideas. The same can be observed from his quote, “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” He inculcated right attitude, personality and behavior through continuous learning. He was almost self-educated without formal education.

He was a good listener as it was evidenced by his quote, “Not a tenth part of the wisdom was my own and more is to be learned with the ear than the tongue.” Listening is one of the traits of effective leaders. With his negotiation skills, he persuaded the French to support American Revolution. He successfully demonstrated his diplomatic skills.

Ben never believed in wasting precious time. He was a very good time manager. Else he would not have achieved all these things within his lifetime. Ben’s slogan was “Time is money.”

He was a risk taker with entrepreneurial bent of mind. He was a net worker and motivator who emphasized on self-improvement. He was an excellent communicator. He built successful teams and led from the front whether he set up franchise system of printing shops or in politics. He was a skillful negotiator and diplomat. All these skills of learning, listening, time management, team building, leadership, listening, negotiation and communication skills fall in the category of soft skills. These skills are much sought after by the employers currently. Therefore, these can be called as employability skills.

Ben listed 12 virtues to follow and declared them to his friends proudly. One of his friends a Quaker criticized him for not having included humility which was essential for everyone and especially more for Ben as he was always boastful. Subsequently Ben included humility as the thirteenth virtue in the list thereby making thirteenth virtue. These 13 virtues of Ben can be called as soft skills and also as employability as the potential recruiters are looking for these values.

Ben stands for success. At 17 he was penniless and at 42 he was wealthy. It could happen because of his 13 virtues. Let us look at the thirteen principles listed in his autobiography which are worth following for becoming all-rounded personality. Follow these skills regularly with each skill for a week continuously to integrate and ingrain within your personality. These virtues build right attitude and personality thus bringing out behavioral changes for your personal and professional success:

1. Temperance: Eat not dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself, avoid trifling conversation.
3. Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have it's time.
4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; waste nothing.
6. Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. Sincerity: Use no harmful deceit; think innocently and justly; and if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. Justice: wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.
11. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, nor at accidents.
12. Chastity: Be chaste in matters with the opposite sex.
13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Interpretation of Each Virtue:

“It is a grand mistake to think of being great without goodness and I pronounce it as certain that there was never a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous.” - Benjamin Franklin

Each virtue of Ben is substituted in the present context as:
1. Temperance: Eat and drink within the healthy limits.
2. Silence: Always talk meaningful and avoid gossips.
3. Order: Organize yourself properly.
4. Resolution: Set your goals firmly and proceed with energy and enthusiasm.
5. Frugality: Don’t waste anything unnecessarily.
6. Industry: Don’t waste your precious time. Always employ and engage yourself productively.
7. Sincerity: Have integrity and honesty.
8. Justice: Always be fair and just.
9. Moderation: Lead balanced life but not with eccentricity.
10. Cleanliness: Always be clean physically and present yourself professionally.
11. Tranquility: Don’t bother for external disturbances arising out of external forces and factors beyond your control.
12. Chastity: Maintain purity. Good character.
13. Humility: Be simple, humble and assertive


“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” - Benjamin Franklin

Ben was a legend in the history of America. He had fascination for innovation. He was respected initially because of his scientific inventions and accomplishments. Humility is the hallmark of Ben. Although he was immodest in his initial period of life, he reinvented himself and became simple and humble.

Ben was an altruist. His virtues and values depict the present day soft skills and employability skills. These are essential forever as long as the human civilization survives. Ben walked the talk throughout his life. He was a trailblazer. Several American leaders follow the ideals and ideas and the virtues and values of Benjamin Franklin. It is time we cherish his ideals and ideas and follow his virtues and values for global peace and prosperity.

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