The most important skills you need to succeed in work and life


Last week I interviewed a candidate for a job vacancy a client of mine has available.

Now recruiting is not a significant part of what I do.  But, firms use me because of a unique skills-search and talent discovery philosophy and process I use.

My process is somewhat different to that used by others such as recruiters and HR consultants. But, it is highly effective in finding high performers for my clients.  Even champion employees that would have otherwise missed out through traditional screening and interviewing methods.

In fact, near the end of the interview with this particular candidate she said to me, “This has been a really interesting interview.  Nothing like I’ve been in before.”

So what was different about the interview and why is my process so effective in uncovering champions?  Let me explain.

The Two Types of Skills

There are two types of skills we need to be successful in life – but one type is far more important than the other.

The first type of skills are technical skills which, if we’re referring to sport as an example, are specific to the sport one plays. For instance it could be the ability to kick a ball in soccer or make a tackle in rugby.

In accounting a technical skill is the ability to create a profit and loss statement or a cashflow forecast.  In architecture it is the ability to design a building.

The second type of skills are life skills. What are they?  One definition from UNESCO defines life skills as “a group of cognitive, personal and interpersonal skills that help people…cope with and manage their lives in a healthy and productive manner.”  Life skills help us to develop goals and plans, get on with others and work towards achieving goals.

Life skills also include soft skills which, according to Wikipedia, “Soft skills is a sociological term relating to a person’s ‘EQ’ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.”

Which are more important? Technical skills or life/soft skills. Most definitely it’s the life skills.

Life skills set the foundation for success, they help us to better develop and optimize our technical skills, they drive success, and they make success.  Life skills produce the strongest champions and the highest performers.  They are what make us champions of life.

Let me put it this way.  What is the difference, in terms of the life skills one needs, between a successful:

  1. CEO/Business owner?
  2. Sports coach?
  3. Plumber, builder or other type of trades person?
  4. Athlete?
  5. Husband and father?
  6. Doctor?

If you answered, “There is no difference”, you’re absolutely right.  To be successful all the people above require the same life skills.  The only difference lies in the specific, technical skills each individual needs.

Uncovering champions in work and life

With candidates I interview I firstly explain the philosophy I’ve just outlined…then most of the interview is dedicated to evaluating life skills using a situational interviewing process.  Put simply, candidates need to demonstrate specific past and current behaviour – in work and personal settings/domains – showing how well or poorly they have performed in the life skills I am evaluating.

The main settings I look into are:

  • Work and career
  • Educational performance
  • Community service
  • Sporting performance
  • Health and wellness
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Family life and personal relationships

To clarify, life skills are used in both work and personal/life settings.  But, I believe that looking closely at personal settings gives a better overall picture of that person’s values, traits and life skills.

The High Performance Super 7 Skills

Life skills are the ultimate transferable skills – crucial skills that are needed for any endeavour where performance and success is important.

The evidence of a super champion?  An individual who has applied and transferred his or her skills to achieve a high level of performance and success across multiple settings and domains.

And what are the most important life skills you need to be successful?  Here they are.  I call them The High Performance Super 7.


If you can find individuals who have successfully used these skills across multiple settings and domains, then you have found yourself genuine high performers.  But they are rare. Which is why I call them the Twenty Percenters.  Meaning?  Using Pareto’s 80/20 principle they represent the top 20% who will account for 80% of the results.


As the graphic at the top illustrates, life skills and technical skills are like two wheels on a bicycle.  Both wheels are needed for you to ride a bike.  But the rear wheel – which connects the chain, cogs  and pedals – is what propels the bike forward.  It is more important than the front wheel. The rear wheel represents life skills.  The front wheel represents technical skills.

You need technical skills and life skills to be a champion.  But life skills are far more important.