What made SciencesPo decide to include soft skills in their MBA program?

It is with great enthusiasm that I am launching the first full 24-hour course in soft skills for the SciencesPo Management and Sustainability MBA program.

“Perform at Your Best: Be the Team Member You Want To Have” begins next week.

This course is inspired by a training program I lead (in French) for 1st time managers in startups: “Boost Team Trust: Be the Manager You Dream of Having” (“Devenir le Manager que Vous Avez Rêvé d’Avoir”)

As you may know, SciencesPo is a French institution and prides itself in the quality of its education.  The  training is essentially oriented towards hard skills: mastery of finances, excellence in measuring market trends, and more.

Soft skills – the capabilities of collaborating effectively as a team, of engaging colleagues and influencing decision, of negotiating win-win agreements – are, well, soft.  How does one verify mastery?  How does one grade such a topic?

It’s a question that managers ask too. How does one measure the benefits of relationship skills?

How does one measure the benefits of relationship skills?

I do not pretend to read the minds of the SciencesPo leadership team. I can, however, share three elements that helped convinced them to invest in building these skills for their upcoming graduates.

1. Graduates are unprepared without soft skills

Managers (and studies) attest that graduates from top schools are insufficiently prepared for the working world. They know what to do…not how. This gap creates inefficiencies.

I remember my first job out of Harvard Business School.

Following my love for fashion, I landed an internship with a children’s clothes manufacturer.  My mission: to identify market trends and to help division managers integrate these findings into their upcoming collections.

Completing the research and analyzing the findings was the easy part.

The challenge lay in facing these seasoned-worked-my-way-up-the-ladder managers, with a you-are-book-smart-but-we-are-street-smart-and-everyone-knows-that-is-what-counts attitude.  No matter what I presented as numbers, they were committed to doing their own thing.

I felt disarmed. 

I would mount an argument around facts.  They purposefully played on a different field which deflated the power of my conclusions.

The challenge lay in facing these seasoned-worked-my-way-up-the-ladder managers, with a you-are-book-smart-but-we-are-street-smart attitude.

It is like my wings were clipped.  I was prepared to soar like an eagle with my asset of a great education.  Instead, I was reduced to walking.  Every see an eagle march?  Not often.  Not effective.

New graduates face similar circumstances.  The quality of their technical skills are less appreciated without the people skills to engage with their colleagues (internal clients) or customers.

2. People skills are SKILLS and can be learned

Advances in neuroscience, behavioral sciences, psychology all point to the fact that relationship skills can be taught.

You have heard (or even said), “That’s the way I am.  Deal with it.”

It is true that we are each uniquely made.  It is also true that we are each on a life journey.  Movement.

Think back to last year.  Back then, kids thought a mask was a Halloween costume.  In September 2019, how many of us realized that it took courage to work in a grocery store?  Our grocers rank among the first to affront exposure to Covid-19.

Are you the same person you were last fall?  Of course not.  Let me guess.  Did you grow in empathy upon seeing the children’s toys behind your colleague during the Zoom meeting?!

You know from your own experience that behavorial skills can be learned. Like reading, writing, and arithmetic.

And, as with academics, a framework for learning acts like a coat rack, a series of hooks upon which we organize our knowledge.  We can easily access them to apply them out in the real world.

Science-Inspired Framework

What is my framework, the one that convinced SciencesPo?

Inspired by Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford (who researches about growth and fixed mindset) and Julie Zhuo (previously VP Design at Facebook and author of Making of a Manager), I build my course on four categories of relationship-related tools:

  • Purpose-building
  • People-developing
  • Process-optimizing
  • Mindset

Our mindset determines which tools we will pick from the 3P’s.  To learn more about these, I regularly share on the topic so follow me for details.

The point here is that there is no one right way to behave.  Appropriate communication skills are context driven.

Self-Awareness Building

We learned from John Newton that every action creates an equal and opposite reaction.  This also applies in relationships.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion:
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. 

My course helps learners build self-awareness.  They identify which Purpose, People, Process, and Mindset tools they currently use (their actions) and how others react to them (the reactions).

(By the way, people often take their behaviors for granted.  It’s the other person initiating the disturbance, not them reacting to us.)

Class participants realize their Behavior A instigates Response Z in the other person.  If, however, they seek Response Y, they could tweak their Purpose, People, Process, or Mindset actions in order to invite a different response.

Change might not happen exactly as we hoped it would.  Humans are…humans after all.  And that is exciting.

Yet, learners in my program learn and master tools which foster responsibility for our part in relationships.

We can tweak our actions to keep aiming for connection and collaboration and positive outcomes with others.  Yes, we can.

3. This is a concrete approach to building soft skills

I present a concrete approach to building soft skills.

One of the criteria for a reputable university is to provide a measuring system for learning.  Are the essentials merely understood…or are they mastered?

It matters to future employers too.  How did this person rank within his/her class?  Are they someone who just gets by or do they truly invest themselves in the pursuit of excellence?

My challenge lay in providing an assurance of transformation results.  There would be a “before” and “after” the class.

Here is what I proposed to SciencesPo (and what I propose for managers and team members too).

Experiential learning stimulates change

Through interactive exercises inspired by neuroscience and psychology participants grow.  These activities include collective brainstorming, 1:1 discussions, individual reflexion, role plays, and more.

These experiential activities generate “Aha! Moments” of self-discovery.  Participants realize on their own the impact of their behavior on others.

I love how this photo catches their expressions when they discovered that they come across as bossy.  😨 They thought they were merely giving instructions, but it came across as controlling.  They KNOW this kind of speech is unpleasant and demotivating because they experienced it.

impact of experiential activity
Response to role play, “Is THAT what I sound like?!”

Participants now WANT to change.

Class members learn techniques to give clear instructions without being directive.  Find out more here.

Learning is based on actual business cases

The collective intelligence sessions for overcoming relationship challenges are particularly appreciated.  A participant presents a sticky situation she/he currently faces and we uncover solutions together.

Each of us, when under pressure, lose the ability to step back and gain fresh perspective. Our confidence also petters out…like a balloon with a tiny puncture.

In the class, I lead the group through a structured collective intelligence process which assures psychological safety.

  • We clarify the issue
  • We initiate a role play where the person with the relationship challenge takes on the role of the person with whom they have difficulty
  • We embark in a collective search for alternative ways to handle the situation
  • The person chooses which solution suits her/his style, context, and confidence level
  • We practice implementing the solution with another role play

Everyone comes away enriched.

The person with the challenges gains fresh perspective.

Those contributing solutions also grow in confidence. They realize they already have elements of answers.  They know where to go for more. They feel equiped.

Young professionals feel equiped to handle relationship challenges with confidence.


My personal mission is to invest in the next generation of leadersTo help them make a living and have a life.  It is an honor and a delight to do so through this first soft skills class for the MBA program at SciencesPo. Thank you for the opportunity.

SpaceX launch - think scaling up

Startup scaling challenge: to turn talented workers into motivating managers

What is THE MISTAKE to avoid when scaling your startup?

The thing that’s like the toothpaste that you cannot put back in the tube, no matter what.

The threat to avoid is turning your talented workers into crappy managers.

It’s your job as CEO to get this right.

You want performance-oriented team leaders who connect with and inspire their teams.  You seek the horizontal relationships true to your culture that brought you this far.

And yet, you need the processes that will take your company further.

How are you building up the next generation of managers without losing your entrepreneurial soul?

It’s like the relay race. To scale, you run facing forward. You need your leaders to put the baton into your hand, without your having to slow down or turn back. You seek a seamless connection between your vision and your leaders’ implementation capabilities.

There is a hitch.

You hired specialists.  Top experts in their field. They are confident when it comes to writing code or building a sales funnel. But they don’t have the know-how (and often nor the confidence) to inspire and develop people.

In the Beijing Olympics, the US relay teams were the favorites. Their runners scored the best individual times. Yet they dropped the baton…and the French team won.

Don’t you want the same confidence as this CEO?

“I have the conviction that we can go far together.”
– Benoit Dupont, CEO of WeMainain
after a team training by Denise Dampierre

Get Better Results as a Team

Stay with me as I share essential challenges in bringing up to speed young managers of scaling startups.

Challenge 1: To know that “what got them here” will not “take them there”

We are talking gut-knowledge, not head-knowledge.

Your new managers previously excelled as individual contributors. Many have come through an educational and professional environment where success depended upon their own performance.

Doing more of what they were doing well propelled them to the next level. Success depends upon their personal efforts.

Oops. Success depended (past tense) on their personal efforts.

What got you here won't get you there

The playing field changes when stepping into managerial shoes.

“Your job, as a manager, is to get better results from a group of people working together.”
– Julie Zhuo, previously VP of Design at Facebook

How do we learn that past practices don’t dictate future results?  It’s through the daily challenges in motivating people, organizing workload, and assuring quality outcomes the realization hits.

How can you, as CEO, speed up the process?  Help them take a step back.  But, do you have the time and energy to do so…when you are sprinting at full speed?!

Challenge 2: To equip upcoming managers with tools

Great managers cast a compelling vision, communicate it clearly, and organize to make it happen.  They bring purpose to the job, connect as people, and set up processes to optimize workflow.

These are learned capabilities.  You may have gained them on the job.  It takes time.  As the CEO of a scaling startup, time is money.

It’s worth the investment to quickly equip your managers with skills that both assure performance and build team spirit.  Give them a head start

  • to set and communicate priorities
  • to lead 1:1 meetings that uncover obstacles and boost motivation
  • to manage their emotions and those of others
  • to redirect a team member respectfully and effectively

It gives them a confident kickoff.

Employees who feel they belong and know they are valued want to contribute more.

The last thing you want is to promote your top performers, to blunder the navigation to manager, and to have them leave for the competition!

Challenge 3: To instore new habits

Knowing what to do is a first step.  That’s not enough.

You want your managers to create new habits so that building team performance becomes as natural as driving a car.

It means

  • To learn to take a step back
  • To not take challenges personally
  • To seek solutions instead of searching for blame
  • To listen first then, if necessary, to propose solutions

What you DON’T need

The easiest of these three needs to fill is N°2 – to equip with tools.  That’s what many management training programs do.

Scaling startups don’t need another program to build the right skills.  It’s good, but not enough. 

Your upcoming managers have knowledge.  They know it is important to build trust and listen actively.

But are they convinced of the need to change? (Challenges N°1)  How to keep them going when they try new tools which don’t work as expected the first time around?  (Challenge N°3)  These implicate a paradigm shift.

What they lack is know-how. 

  • How to act when you discover a team member made a mistake…AND how to respond this time so that next time errors surface quickly to get nipped in the bud
  • How to listen…when the other person lacks confidence to speak his mind
  • How to tap into collective intelligence…so that team members own the decisions

The MOST VALUABLE solution

Researchers Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo present the 70:20:10 model of learning.

They estimate that 70% of learning stems from experience, 20% from mentoring and personalized feedback, and 10% from formal courses and learning.

 10-20-70 model Learning development

The best manager-training program to help you scale up will include

  • a major focus (70%) on finding solutions to current and actual challenges
  • a personalized training plan (20%) to set growth goals and track progress
  • an easily accessible ressource for building new skills (10%)

That’s why I launched Boost Team Trust – Devenir le manager que vous avez rêvé d’avoir
(Yes, the program is in French.  I am American-born and a long-time Parisian.  Scaling startup clients from my in-person training encouraged me to launch out with an online solution.)

Through a 6-month online training and growth-sprint program, participants learn, Practice, and GROW as leaders.

Make a personalized Growth Plan

We begin with a 1:1 coaching session to set personal and team growth goals for the next three months.  We revise these in another 1:1 discussion the middle of the program, and reconvene at the close of six months to acknowledge progress.   These goals are personalized and can include

  • To set group guidelines together
  • To hold meaningful and regularly 1:1 meetings.  Meaningful means _____ (measurable)
  • To develop my internal network by ______ (action plan)

Learn tools when you want and when you need them

Participants have 24/7 access to training videos on managerial skills centered around tools

  • To build the growth mindset
  • To strengthen purpose
  • To connect with people
  • To create efficient processes

Solve Real Problems Together

Every two weeks we tap into collective intelligence to resolve a member’s sticky situation:  a team member is not satisfied, again – Teams that are supposed to collaborate still do not see eye to eye.This is one of the most appreciated moments of the program.

  • Young managers realize others share their challenges
  • They discover they can find solutions to other people’s problems…and learn to transpose those same ideas to their situation
  • They come to realize some of their own behaviors which might be contributing to the complication

Stay accountable and be encouraged to Keep Growing 

Every week, we connect on the community to set and review the week’s top three action steps to keep advancing towards long term goals while also managing the day to day.

Get YOUR team ready to scale

Are you aiming to take your company to the next level?  Do you want to make sure you team does not drop the baton?

I help talented, ambitious contributors become the managers they dream of having.

Run your relay with confidence.

Let’s talk.  Send me an email to set up a call.

US men’s relay team at Beijing. It takes more than individual champions to build a winning team.