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Skill Set Development

Originally published on November 9, 2016

This is the 18th entry in the Blog on Executive Leadership.

Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. — Napoleon Hill

Have you ever tried to achieve a goal but achieved mediocre results? Have you ever seen other people achieve their goals effortlessly and wonder how they do that? This is where skills development comes in. It is about skills development, why it’s an important part of goal achievement, and how to do it.

What is Skills Development?

Skills development is the process of (1) identifying your skill gaps, and (2) developing and honing these skills. It is important because your skills determine your ability to execute your plans with success.

In developing your skills, I’d like you to consider 2 groups of skills:

Hard skills: Skills relating to any specific task; they are usually easily quantifiable. They tend to be knowledge-based, such as proficiency in a subject, certification, and technical skills. Fluency in Spanish, skills in XYZ software, graphic design, and programming are all hard skills.

Soft skills: Skills relating to personality and tend to be transferable, such as communication, leadership, time management, stress management, decision making, adaptability, ability to deal with adversity, and networking.

Both hard and soft skills are important. When you succeed based on only soft skills but with no hard skills, you lack the foundation to create new wins. It’s a matter of time before people call you out on a lack of skills—or your deception. When you have only hard but no soft skills, you lack the savviness to hustle and showcase your talent to a bigger crowd out there. Both skills are complementary to each other.

How to Start Developing Skills

Celestine Chua (n.d.) proposed six key areas by which skills may be developed:

  1. Start with the core skills. If you’re starting in a goal from ground zero, such as learning how to program when you don’t know anything about coding, it can be intimidating as there’ll be a multitude of new skills to learn. I recommend starting with core skills first.

Core skills are skills you absolutely need to succeed in your goal. They have a direct impact on your success.

Secondary skills are of lower importance vs. the core skills. While they accentuate your success, your expertise in them do not make or break your goal.

  1. Break into little steps. With each skill, break the learning into small steps. Developing a skill can be a lofty project, so break it up into little chunks. Don’t expect to reach “master” status right away but focus on conquering each section, one bit at a time. For seemingly unquantifiable soft skills, assign quantifiable milestones to guide you. For example, if you want to cultivate networking skills, you can start by going to new events and reaching out to new people each week, and subsequently practice how you introduce yourself and pitch your ideas to others, iterate accordingly, and so on.

  2. Learn from the best. One of the best ways to learn is to learn from the best. That’s because you can understand from someone who’s “been there done that” and get their wisdom rather than proceed unguided. Here are some tips:

Who are the people you know, who have experience in this area? Approach them for advice. Ask them: How should you build your skill in this area? Do they have any tips for you? What should you watch out on?

Engage a coach. Getting a coach isn’t cheap, but if you have the financial resources and you get the right coach, you can shave hundreds of hours off your learning curve. My clients, through our sessions together, have saved hundreds of hours and sped ahead in their goals, compared to if they had struggled and dealt with these issues alone.

Get a mentor. Is there a senior in your company or your network of contacts who would be willing to mentor you?

Study experts in the industry. Who are the experts in your field? Study them and understand what makes them so good at what they do. Model their behavior, while adapting it to fit you.

  1. Research. Research to gather different insights and perspectives. The internet has made information more accessible than ever. Research via these tools:

  2. Blogs. Blogs have become the primary way we receive information. Use Google to find new blogs. Bookmark the blogs that look promising.

  3. Podcasts. In our modern world where most of our time is spent at computers, audio can be a refreshing way to learn.

  4. Books. Books are great sources of information as they are essentially very structured forms of content, usually a collection of the author’s best wisdom on the topic. Is there a library where you live? If so, head to the library and borrow books related to the subject. If not, hit the bookstores and check out their recommended books.

  5. Formal or online courses. Courses help you learn from an expert–online courses have become a huge thing in recent years.

  6. Attend training. Courses and workshops are great ways to quickly develop skills. Think of it as a concentrated source of information that has been organized into a structured program for your learning. When looking for training, be careful to look for one with actual content and taught by a credible trainer. Ask for a breakdown of the course curriculum. There are many courses today that are filled with fluff and taught by people who are more interested in profits than in the teaching, and you want to stay away from these.

  7. Take action. With all that said and done, it comes down to doing. “Doing” here depends on the skill you are building. If you’re learning to program, it means writing code, creating simple software, and testing them. If you are learning public speaking, it means practicing in front of the mirror, taping yourself and reviewing your performance, and speaking in front of real people, events.

While the action phase is probably the scariest phase of all, it is the most rewarding phase because that’s when you learn the most. That’s when you stop hiding in a bubble, get out of your comfort zone, and jump-start your learning.  The more hours you put in, the better you will become. Allocate time to practice each day.


Next week will be the FINAL  post in the series: The Learning Cycle.


The preceding material was adapted from:

Chua, C. (n.d.). Skills development.  Retrieved from

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