15 Key Competencies for Professional Success in the 21st Century

Success! Success!! Success!!!

Do you want to achieve success? With what intensity? Enough to take concrete steps towards it? Enough to try to understand and study it? Sufficiently to sweat for it? But what is success? And what is the recipe for achieving it? Is there a universal recipe for everyone? What are the challenges in this historical moment we are experiencing? And what is the market demanding of professionals in this context?

Let’s begin by understanding what success is? The word success comes from the Latin successus; it is a combination of the prefix sub and the word cedere. The prefix sub means to advance, to follow; and cedere has the meaning of to go, to move, to dislocate. The word success as a synonym for favorable outcomes began to take hold in the 15th century. It is interesting to see how the idea of ​​success includes the concept of ​​movement. To be successful, it requires action, a move in a specific direction. Another associated idea is the idea of following, which makes us understand that, in fact, there are several movements and that there is a connection between them. It is something that comes next. But after what?

We are in the 21st century, and since humanity settled on this planet Earth, we have been moving in search of the essential needs of life: physiological needs, safety, love-belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (Thank you, Maslow, for defining so clearly what motivates us!). We can consider these requirements and determine that each one describes a form of success. For anyone struggling for survival, surviving is a success. For the ones fighting for security and stability, that is a success. For those looking for esteem and self-actualization, these are the parameters defining what success means to them at that very moment. Interests, passions, and skills also come into play when defining success. For an artist, success is to impress through their art and survive from it; for an engineer, success could be creating or optimizing machines and processes; for a social worker, success can be to make a difference in someone else’s life and transform economic dependability into independence.

Moreover, in these tasks, there are several and varied levels of achievement. In the business world, the idea of ​​success is often equated with wealth, accumulation of riches, and money. So much so that, for some, success is synonymous with financial prosperity. But, it is not so for everyone. Values ​​are different for each person.

In general, I like to think of success in terms of happiness, contentment, and fulfillment. If you are happy, you can achieve your life goals; or if you are working towards it and living according to values ​​you believe in, you can consider yourself successful. However, there is a wonderful and positive dissatisfaction within each of us that always wants more! The drive to grow, achieve new goals, and new levels of excellence, leads us to seek ever-higher levels of success. So, we can conclude that the idea of ​​success is unstable, fluid, and changes over time. It is a continuous goal that encourages a movement to search for new altitudes and levels every day. Whoever thinks that he/she has already reached a satisfactory point begins to lose motivation and a sense of purpose in life. Contentment is good, but resting on your laurels is not. Contentment generates joy with what you have; comfort creates stagnation. The drive to the next level of success keeps you alive and motivated to build and accomplish more each day.

We live in the VUCA world. This is our current context. For those unfamiliar with the VUCA concept, it is an acronym that sums up the characteristics of the present world: V for volatility, U for uncertainty, C for complexity, and A for ambiguity. A world in which you cannot precisely predict what will happen, and this generates a lot of anxiety and many doubts in the decision-making processes in our professional lives, as a whole, and even more in the lives of leaders who have the challenge of establishing strategies for companies.

Although times are so different from the old days, with new elements like technologies and social networks, some old success recipes still work, and some general criteria remain time-tested! At Altitude Career Coaching, these values ​​are the basis of everything we do: research, study, hard work, strategic planning, discipline, and perseverance. It doesn’t matter what your professional role is or where you are in your career! These values ​​are the fundamental values ​​that will lead you to success.

The focus of coaching is always the process, more specifically, in our case, the process of professional success. Through thought-provoking questions, Altitude takes you to explore possibilities, expand your vision, define what you have that is good and what you are missing or need to improve. We lead you to reflect and structure your successful process _ in partnership! Success is a field of study in itself. Studying successful strategies is critical for you to achieve it. But what about the strategies specifically needed for success in the 21st century?

Now, dealing with specific success strategies for the 21st century, I would like to share the skills that the 21st century professional needs to develop to be successful in the job market. When I was working in the field of education, I was exposed to a study developed by the Hewlett Foundation, done by Finegold and Notabartolo in 2010, in which 15 skills of the ideal professional for the 21st century were identified. And, within the context of preparing for professional coaching, I met this study one more time. I will mention here the 15 skills considered essential for professional success in the 21st century. These competencies were divided into 5 groups: analytical skills, interpersonal relationships, skills to execute, information processing, and capacity for change. We will detail each of these competencies, starting with the first group: analytical skills.

1. Analytical Skills: involve critical thinking, problem-solving, research and inquiry, and decision making.

 • Critical thinking – Evaluating what is written and using the faculties of thought and logic to decide if something is correct and makes sense in a particular context, instead of passively accepting information that is passed on to you; this is what is expected from professionals of the 21st century. They are expected to be active thinkers who question and can interact with information around them.

Problem-solving – It concerns the ability to solve specific situations and problems independently. This competence can represent a salary increase of around 7%, and a year of study can increase this difference by 1%, thus showing that the level of education impacts the ability to solve problems. People who have to continually ask their colleagues for help in resolving issues earn about 7% less, according to the study.

Research and inquiry – There is a buzz expression going on in the business world: “information-based decision making” proposing decisions based on facts from research. In this case, the professional uses data as the basis for their decision. The digital world has made it possible to accumulate a great deal of information about consumer habits and preferences. The question now is how companies are going to use all this information to their advantage. A well-informed employee through research and inquiry is much better able to make the right decisions that will benefit their company.

Decision making – Being able to weigh the pros and cons and determine what the most viable and profitable option is in a given situation. This ability can generate millions for a company or make it lose millions. Deciding correctly, taking into account information and contexts, is the key in today’s world.

 2. Interpersonal Skills – involves communication, collaboration, leadership, and responsibility.

Communication – Communicating clearly and effectively is essential in any profession. An error in written communication can generate errors in cascade and cause losses of millions. The same can happen with oral communication. In addition to accuracy, the aesthetic factor is also essential to attract or repel customers, especially in the sales area. Training to speak with correctness and terminological accuracy is very important.

 • Collaboration – Most companies, around 80% of them, work in teams, and it is essential to develop the ability to collaborate on projects. A company’s productivity tends to increase when teams know how to interact well in smart collaboration.

Leadership and responsibility – This competence is at the top of the most desired in the market lately. Even the team members are expected to be able to identify moments when their leadership within the team may be necessary at a particular time. More than that, they are expected to be ready and alert to recognize these moments and take the initiative to act in this role when necessary, always with responsibility, assuming their role and carrying out the tasks the group needs.

3. Abilities to Execute – This means doing things, acting, and acting at a high level of performance.

Initiative and self-direction – being autonomous and not needing someone to tell you what to do is the competence discussed here, which is every employer’s dream. If you want to be a well-valued employee, take an attitude of proactivity and active cooperation!

Productivity – the ability to motivate and perform efficiently is what is being looked for! An employee who is simply there to earn a salary, without a vision of productivity and the desire to collaborate to achieve the company’s goals is an employee who does not produce well and, therefore, is not wanted. A useful productivity index is highly desired in a professional. A professional with high performance stands out!

4. Information Processing: it involves information literacy, media literacy, digital citizenship, as well as ICT operations and concepts.

Information Literacy – Knowledge of computer programs and processes is a plus. Everything is very computerized! Professionals who demonstrate this competence tend to stand out and earn better salaries.

Media Literacy – Social media today is an integral part of the lives of individuals and also companies. Today’s professionals are expected to know how to interact and produce content with and through the media. This skill increases an average of 10% of salary.

Operations and concepts of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) and Digital Citizenship – Being able to interact with online communications via websites and other platforms on the Internet is essential, and people who develop this ability also tend to have higher salaries. Being informed and qualified to use the most diverse forms of digital production and interaction is the key. Don’t be frightened by new technologies; explore them, learn, be informed, be one of the first in your company to master them, and you will stand out.

 5. Ability to Change – being able to deal with new ways of working and producing.

Creativity/innovation – In a world where we are speaking about the fourth industrial revolution, with the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI), automated tasks will increasingly be responsibilities delegated to machines. It will be up to the human being, the part that requires creation and innovation, the “cat jump” that the device cannot do. In a world full of information, whoever attracts through the creative use of written and visual language and discovers better ways to optimize processes with creativity will win the market. Many think that creativity is not learned, but that is not true! There are ways to stimulate the creative process and pull your mind in that direction.

Information processing – Knowing, independently, how to use a manual and perform a task, process content, and understand the practical application of content is what defines this competence. Exercising the mental process of analyzing, reflecting, clarifying, and understanding in detail what is being said or written, interpreting the required action, and implementing it is an essential means of developing this skill.

Flexibility and adaptability – In a world that continually changes at super speed, being able to adapt and be flexible in new situations plays a vital role in professional success. It is necessary to know how to deal with changes and innovations at work well. There is a process for everything. It is possible to be trained to interact with new situations positively and engagingly.

Learning to learn – Nowadays, it is necessary to learn how to learn, unlearn, and relearn constantly. A professional willing to exercise their brain regularly with the objective of learning is paramount. You don’t finish a course; nobody graduates for real. The successful professional continues to seek constant learning and development, and whoever stops studying is left behind!

Do you have these skills developed, and are you ready for success in the 21st century? If not, don’t worry! It is possible to develop them! Nobody is born knowing, and none of these skills are innate. It is possible to set goals and grow in each one! Altitude is here to help you out! Our mission is:

“Empower professionals with  knowledge, tools and skills to navigate the job market and become the best they can be, motivating them to pursue constant development aiming at high performance and success.”

Ready to embark on a beautiful journey to success? We hope so! At Altitude, we take these 15 skills as one of the parameters in the professional development process. Do you want to become a great professional in the 21st century? Contact us (contato@altitudecareercoaching.com) to continue this conversation about your success.

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