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Goldman Sachs exec: The No. 1 soft skill successful people use to get ahead at work—and how to develop it

Shekhinah Bass
Photo: Goldman Sachs

Shekhinah Bass cut her teeth — and built her career — at one of the most competitive, powerful firms on Wall Street: Goldman Sachs. 

After 17 years at the firm, the mother of five is now Goldman Sachs' head of talent strategy within the firm's human capital management division.

The most important soft skill that distinguishes high performers at Goldman Sachs, and propels people to successful careers on Wall Street at large, she's discovered, isn't creative dealmaking or a confident attitude — it's having a growth mindset. 

"They're the ones who come to a job hungry to learn new skills, who are open to feedback and willing to act on it," Bass, 39, tells CNBC Make It. "Those are the people that go far in their careers."

Coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, a growth mindset is when you see your abilities, talent and knowledge as skills you can continue to grow and improve upon. The opposite is a fixed mindset, or the belief that your skills and talents can't change over time. 

"The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it's not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset," Dweck wrote in her 2006 book, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success." "This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives."

In the workplace, Bass says, you can measure your growth mindset based on how you respond to feedback from your manager and co-workers. 

"Feedback can help you identify your blind spots, so you can shift or change how you're showing up in certain work situations," she explains. "With a growth mindset, you will see those blind spots as things that are within your control to improve." 

To develop and practice a growth mindset at work, you'll need to set challenging goals for yourself, be willing to take risks and seek out feedback and coaching from others. 

Next time you receive constructive criticism, consider one of the following responses, which show that you're open to the feedback rather than "shutting it down," says Bass:

  • "I hear your feedback. Here are the things I'm going to do to try and improve upon that area for development:"
  • "That's not yet a strength of mine, but it's something I am going to focus on." 

Through extensive research, neuroscientists have found that a growth mindset is the most effective frame of thinking for achieving goals, gaining new skills, viewing your failures as learning opportunities and developing positive changes in your life. 

It's also one of the most sought-after skills companies look for in the people they hire, Bass adds. 

"Are you open to improving on something, or are you the type of person to walk out of the room and say, 'Whatever, nothing's going to change'?" says Bass. "Being thoughtful and willing to try something new or different goes a long way."

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