Top 10 Skills Tomorrow’s Leaders Will Need

They are developed at selective liberal arts colleges, says ELCA college leader

(Image: Paul Pearson)
(Image: Paul Pearson)

This year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, recently published a list of the top 10 skills that will be needed for careers in 2020:

[Related: Top 10 Emerging Careers for College Grads]

  1. Complex problem solving
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Judgment and decision making
  8. Service orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive flexibility

As I reflect upon the list, I realize graduates of top liberal arts colleges will smile as they read it, reminded that their education focuses on skills that will be valuable across a lifetime. Alumni of liberal arts colleges are over-represented among leaders of Fortune 500 companies.  In 2010, the late Steve Jobs pointed out how valuable a liberal arts education is even at tech companies. “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough,” he said. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

Today’s college graduates will manage products and processes invented long after they graduate. In just 18 years, Google – or, if you like, Alphabet – has grown from a startup to the world’s most-valued company.

Regardless of major, liberal arts graduates tend to demonstrate the following skills:

  • Effective thinking, writing, and speaking skills
  • Competency in writing clear and cogent expository prose
  • Basic skills of language acquisition and usage
  • The ability to understand and utilize mathematical and/or logical relationships, to analyze data, to construct and assess arguments, and to make sound judgments
  • The technical skills, problem-solving ability, judgment, and courage necessary to create new work in the visual, performing, and literary arts, together with the knowledge of the theory, history, and social context of artistic practice
  • The ability to interpret and evaluate issues of human concern, experience, and expression by means of analysis, critical reasoning, and historical reflection
  • Understanding of human activity and world views across time, geography, and cultures
  • Facility with biological, computational, mathematical, and physical theories and paradigms, using quantitative and scientific problem solving skills to investigate natural phenomena
  • Understanding of how modern institutional structures and social, political, economic, and cultural practices shape and are shaped by individual choices, group behavior, and public policies, developing an understanding of the operations of power and ideology across social contexts, relationships, and practices
  • Understanding of human difference and the intellectual and civic skills required for participation in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world

As the good people in Davos keep coming up with new lists, top liberal arts colleges will keep doing what we’ve done for generations: educating the next generations of successful leaders who will go on to change the world.

This editorial was written by John Williams, president of Muhlenberg College and the first African American to lead an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) institution of higher education. An unedited version was previously published by Education Dive.