Deep Thoughts

The 5 Essential Skills, Habits and Behaviours for Career Success and How To Develop Them

We’re all looking for that silver bullet, right?

The thing or things that’ll let us accelerate past everyone else to reach our aspirations in record time.

Sadly, life doesn’t work that way, but we can recognise the key habits, behaviours and skills that’ll enable career success in the long term.

Especially with lifelong employability.

That’s not a phrase which is used often in the careers game. But, it’s what we’re all aiming for when you think about it.

We’re all just trying to build the talent stack (my term for all your skills, experience, habits and behaviours rolled into one) that’ll give us that code which enables us to keep being employed.

This is not about staying in one career or being with one employer.

This is about building the talent stack which allows each of us to adapt to the ever-changing world, thus enabling us to be employable. You don’t want to be stuck and stale when it comes to career success.

As a learning and performance consultant, I spend (probably) too much time reading research on high-performing people, places and how this translates into the modern workplace.

Something that I’ve been obsessing over the last year is the 3-5 skills, habits and behaviours that modern organisations need from their people.

And, how each of us can build these to navigate the careers landscape today and tomorrow.

5 essential skills, habits and behaviours

Ok, let’s talk about the components you should focus on to build your talent stack for lifelong employability.

1/ Resilience

The team at EveryDay Health define resilience as:

The ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Being resilient does not mean a person doesn’t experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Resilience involves the ability to work through emotional pain and suffering.

Obviously, none of us wants to suffer.

Yet, we can learn valuable lessons during these times to take forward into the future. Dealing with sudden change is something that happens often in the working world.

This could be through a reorganisation or perhaps taking on a new role. No matter what it is, deploying your own resilience will greatly help you.

One does not just ‘build resilience’ though.

It is learnt through experiences over time. So, no, I can’t give you a course or perfect resource to help you. However, the folks at EveryDay Health have curated some great insight to help us all with this.

2/ Adaptability

I describe this as the ability to navigate new landscapes and deal with ambiguity. Which, in my opinion, is basically the ride of life.

The capability to adapt to new environments, new times or when presented with new data is key.

Classic examples of this include when Spotify disrupted the music industry with streaming, and when Apple released the iPhone, introducing the first smartphone and apps into our lives.

Recognising and understanding the need to adapt to a changing world is essential.

CEO of Vayner X, Gary Vee is a classic example of this.

Gary inherited a bricks-and-mortar wine business from his father. It was a small-scale operation with a few local stores.

This was in 1998 and Gary soon realised that the times were changing. He stumbled across an emerging, and little know at the time, video sharing platform called YouTube.

Gary felt this new piece of technology could help scale his business.

“I was completely convinced that online video was going to be a big thing. I knew it was a medium that was going to matter”

Gary Vaynerchuk

The old guard at the time didn’t see the changes in the world through the power of the internet and more new digital technologies. Or, perhaps, they didn’t want to face them.

Gary was told countless times that he was ‘crazy’ and going to ‘destroy his father’s business’. Instead, that little old Wine Library TV show Gary shared on YouTube blew up.

It blew up so much that Gary pivoted his career into the world of social marketing and broader entrepreneurship.

YouTube is now a daily must-use app and Gary sits atop multiple successful companies. And why so? Simple, he built the capability to adapt to the world around him, not try to make the world adapt to him.

You’ll never win with the latter.

3/ Digital Intelligence

This really has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with awareness.

If one thing is apparent across many generations of people I’ve worked with, it’s the lack of knowledge when it comes to using and understanding how basic digital technologies work.

A classic example of this can be found in workplace technology.

The average company provides employees with over 88 different apps to use in their workflow. That’s a lot of choices, right?

This often leads to trying to use too many tools and only utilising them to less than 10% of their capabilities. Bad for your skills and your work.

It’s important in an ever-growing digital world, where the lines between physical and digital are blurring almost daily, that we get better with understanding how tech can support us.

Those who are tech-savvy will have more career opportunities available in the long term.

This is not about learning how to code or architect a system. It’s far simpler than that. This is about knowing about popular and useful tech, and how you can use it to support your skills and career.

Consider how people use YouTube as a learning resource and the features of LinkedIn to build a professional brand and learn new skills.

Digital intelligence is about knowing how to use technology to support you.

4/ Emotional Intelligence

If there was one thing I wish they would teach us all at school, it’s emotional intelligence.

It’s weird that as emotional beings that we don’t recognise we have them and often try to suppress them. Especially in the workplace.

Emotions drive our behaviours, mood and actions. They are the data we use to interpret the world around us. The sooner we learn this, the easier life can be to navigate.

And, guess what? Emotions matter in the workplace too.

Healthy emotional cultures where people recognise and understand the impact of their and others’ emotions are instrumental in enabling us to do our best work.

The team at Verywell Mind define emotional intelligence as:

The ability to perceive, interpret, demonstrate, control, evaluate, and use emotions to communicate with and relate to others effectively and constructively.

Verywell Mind

Here’s a few tips on improving your own emotional intelligence:

  1. Be aware of your emotions.
    The first step to improving your emotional intelligence is to be aware of your own emotions. Pay attention to how you feel in different situations and what triggers those emotions. Once you are aware of your emotions, you can start to manage them more effectively.
  2. Be aware of other people’s emotions.
    In order to be emotionally intelligent, you also need to be aware of other people’s emotions. Pay attention to the nonverbal cues that people use to communicate their feelings. This can help you better understand how they are feeling and respond in a way that is helpful to them.
  3. Practice empathy.
    Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. When you are able to empathise with someone, you are better able to understand their perspective and provide support when they need it. To practice empathy, try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagining how they might feel in a given situation

5/ Future-Fit

This is not a skill nor a behaviour, it’s more of a habit or, perhaps, a state of mind.

I define being Future-Fit as understanding the skills you need to be world-class and navigate the current world, and have the curiosity to develop what’s needed for tomorrow’s world.

We’re blessed and cursed as a species with the ability to remember what has been but have the foresight to look ahead to what may come.

Now doing either can be problematic but with the right intent and context, they can be useful. We can’t predict the future, but we can do our best to plan for it with the data we have today.

When I think about being Future-Fit, I think about having the right skills in place to keep navigating the world and to do all of the above points.

It’s quite fitting that this last point rolls everything we’ve discussed so far into a kinda neat completion.

One of the ways I find useful to keep myself ready for what tomorrow might bring is conducting quarterly health checks for my skills.

It might sound like a cringey tagline. But skills pay the bills, so it makes sense to assess them often, right?

If we can keep building the right skills to navigate life and the career game, we can take some control of building opportunities and charting our own course.

Invest in yourself

That’s a wrap on this folks.

Of course, this list will evolve over time. Yet, I sense some of these will always be what enables each of us to design a rewarding career on our own terms.

Before you go… 👋

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I don’t do TNA (training needs analysis) here’s why…

I assume the headline enticed you to click on this, so let me get to the point from the get-go.

A big reason I don’t do TNA is due to it being a shopping list rather than solving real problems. I spend a lot of time (trying) to change the perception of what an L&D function does in an org to shed that wishlist mentality.

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This thought was partly inspired by a doom scrolling session where I encountered people bickering over what I felt was a stupid thing in what the process of one discarding what is not useful to them anymore is called.

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5 ways You Can Revolutionise Learning Functions Today

Let’s talk about some things we can all do to scale the level of our learning and performance functions.

Do your research 

Explore the industry today to understand what the modern approaches across organisations of all sizes are. It’s good to understand not only what’s working, but what’s not working too, and why.

When you walk into any new role or are looking to take a new approach to your function, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Not only should you do external research, but you also need to get a view of the land within the organisation. it’s key to understand what infrastructure is already in place.

  • Get clear on the company strategy.
  • What is your organisation trying to achieve? 
  • What do people need to know and do to help reach this? 

At the end of the day, everyone who’s part of the company is here to perform to provide ROI. That might sound awful but it’s true.

Getting clear on the company strategy will help make sure you’re focusing on the right things to affect performance and provide value. Not just doing the same old because that’s what people expect.

Talk to your people

I strongly recommend not to take the easy road of assumptions and siloed conversations behind closed doors with only the chosen few.

To get the real picture of what’s happening across your organisation today, you need to get out and speak to the people. Ya know, the ones who are doing the work day in and out. The view of just senior levels only plays a dangerous game of opinions. And most opinions are biased and without data.

This is not helpful when trying to build a learning and performance function that wants to enable real value for its people.

A simple action you can take is just talking to people across the org. Use questions to understand what they like about the culture of growth today, what they like, don’t like and how they approach growth in their time outside work.

Use a data-led approach to build a strategy that actually helps fellow humans get better every day. Not a function that acts more like a McDonald’s drive-thru and peddles the usual junk.

Now it’s key to note here, that this is not a TNA aka a training needs analysis exercise. Screw TNA’s! They’re a bunch of BS in my opinion. Asking people what they want generally turns out to be a wishlist of stuff that they don’t need.

Most of us don’t know what we need to know.

So yes, collect data but ask the right questions. What people want and want they need are often two very different things.


I love to experiment with new ideas and improve upon what’s already in place.

Now I recognise, that depending on the culture of your org and leadership team, it can be difficult to have the space to experiment and change things up. 

If there’s one thing I’ve noted in my 16 years in this space thus far, it’s that orgs like the stability of the good old L&D function. This stable framework in the corporate space is a spillover of the framework we’ve all experienced through educational institutions.

But, education and learning in the workplace are not the same thing.

Education has always been instructor-led, I speak, you listen formats. Whereas workplace learning is all about adult connections and conversations. Repeating what happens in the education world is not going to enable the same benefit in the world of work.

If anything, it’s going to damage it.

So look to try out new things, but also respect the things in place now and look to improve on these. And, we must not forget, that in our experimentation it can be incredibly useful to connect and learn from the world outside learning.

I’ve always found synergy and learnt a lot from fellow humans in the world of tech, product and marketing.

Taking approaches and skills from this world for your development is essential in building yourself into a T-shaped modern learning professional (more on that in a blog post soon!).

Be smart with technology

Now I know learning technology is all the rage, but it’s not going to be your saviour. Tech (like all things in life) can be valuable if used with the right intent. And intention is the key word here, folks.

Likewise, we should not fear tech either. It’s not going to replace you or your team. Unless you want it to of course!

Instead of me writing a bunch more, here’s something I wrote earlier covering a checklist on what to do before buying any learning technology.

The bottom line is to be intentional in anything you use in your tech stack. It must have a purpose to fix a real-world situation. Not just we should do this because everyone else does this.

Don’t forget the human 

It’s easier than ever to create a digital learning tech ecosystem. It’s actually really hard to connect with people on a human level and create meaningful experiences in the real world.

For me, that’s the real challenge today.

Again, I’m not proposing a silver bullet solution here. Instead, this is all about continued exploration across the culture you find yourself in and striking the balance that works for your community.

Before you go… 👋

If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.

You can subscribe to my newsletter here or below.

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