Why Mastering Key Skills is Essential to Your Progress

Keep one foot in front of the other.

Hit your stride.

These are all sayings for “progress.”

My life mantra is to always keep going forward, and try hard to avoid slipping backward. W

hich is just another way of measuring progress.

Humans seem almost singularly focused on progress, and if you are like me, you may have been using your achievements as a gauge.

However, progress can also be achieved by mastering certain skills that will help you in all areas of your life.

It isn’t just enough to move on or up the ladder.

Instead, try mastering these key skills, and you will discover how essential they are to true progress.

‘Key skills’ to focus on

These key skills are essential regardless of your career path.

These are the skills that help you be a better person, and mastering them will give you a leg up in life, not just your career.

The first couple of key skills relate to being your best self:

The next set of key skills relates to how we deal with others.

These are the skills that will help with relationships, both personally and professionally.

They include:

  • Listening skills
  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • Leadership

When you focus on mastering these key skills, then progress and improvement are the natural byproducts.

Focusing on the goal often means that we do not do the hard work associated with mastering each of these things, and we short ourselves, even if we achieve our goals.

‘Self’ skills

Accountability is the building block to all the rest of the skills.

Accountability to yourself builds self-respect.

True accountability is demonstrated by your level of commitment, and not just the fact that you show up.

According to Mark Biddinger, a Director of Financial Planning and Analysis, “Perhaps the most important result of accountability is trust, which is essential in any relationship.”

Do you trust yourself to deliver on your promises?

If you trust yourself and are accountable, then people will place their trust in you as well, often giving you more high-profile projects. 

“Accept responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else.” Les Brown

Resiliency is defined by Nan Henderson M.S.W., Ph.D.  as, “Resiliency is the ability to overcome challenges of all kinds–trauma, tragedy, personal crises, plain ‘ole’ life problems–and bounce back stronger, wiser, and more personally powerful.”

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Anytime you can become stronger, wiser, and more personally powerful, you are making progress.

It may not feel like it right away, but eventually you, and those around you, will be able to see your strength, wisdom, and power.

You can build your resiliency by practicing thought awareness, cognitive restructuring, and being open to learning from your mistakes and failures. 

“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.” ― Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Time management is a skill that most of us struggle with.

It is so easy to get distracted by the world around us.

I have two kids, one of whom is doing remote school, so he is home all day.

Two dogs who bark and whine constantly because I work from home, and they want my undivided attention.

The never-ending housework that always needs looking after.

Then there is the dreaded palm-sized distraction device, aka, the phone.

This week, The Umbrella Academy has been calling my name.

Two tools I use to help with time management issues are the Pomodoro Technique, and ‘if/then’ statements.

An example of that might be, “If I finish this article before lunch, then I can watch one episode of The Umbrella Academy before moving onto my next task.” 

“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four-hour days.”  Zig Ziglar

Having self-confidence makes people more assertive.

Confident people are also better able to communicate clearly because they know their value and believe they are good at something.

You can build your confidence by using positive affirmations and staying in a positive headspace.

Also, don’t be afraid to acknowledge your achievements.

You worked hard to get wherever you are at this moment, owning your success is not a bad thing.

Speaking confidently about a subject that you are knowledgeable in, standing with your head held high, and appearing confident will also help improve this skill. 

“As is our confidence, so is our capacity.” ― William Hazlitt

While we often think communication is a two-way street, I put it under a self-skill because the art of communication starts with ourselves.

We have to learn to be assertive with our needs.

Learning to express ourselves vocally (constructively) when someone has wronged is a vital skill.

People can not fix what they are unaware of. O

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ne way to do this is to become comfortable using “I” statements, instead of “You” statements.

Improving the way we write, since a good deal of workplace communication happens via email, is another way to strengthen your communication skills

“Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.” Jim Rohn

Key skills that relate to other people

Listening skills are the other half of that communication street.

There are several methods on how to listen to people.

Active listening involves body language, such as looking directly at someone when they are speaking, giving them visual cues like nodding or taking notes, and not using any devices that may provide a distraction.

The steps for active listening are: 

  1. Listen
  2. Acknowledge
  3. Clarify
  4. Respond 

Then you either start at the first step again, discuss options, or ask a question.

Another listening technique is called reflective listening.

This focuses on how you rephrase what someone is saying to you.

This is useful when responding with, “So, what I hear you saying is…”

This lets the person know that you are paying attention to them, and also gives you a chance to make sure you are hearing what they are really trying to tell you.

Empathetic listening takes those techniques a little further and helps the listener understand how the speaker is feeling.

Even if they don’t use words to communicate that explicitly.

Put your feelings aside to listen empathetically.

This technique is only effective when you see something from the speaker’s perspective.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”Stephen R. Covey

What is empathy?

Many people get empathy and sympathy confused.

Empathy involves feeling something as if you were that person.

Sympathy is feeling something for someone else, such as pity. 

Neel Burton M.D. illustrates empathy by saying,

“For me to share in someone else’s perspective, I must do more than merely put myself into his position.

Instead, I must imagine myself as him, and, more than that, imagine myself as him in the particular situation in which he finds himself. I cannot empathize with an abstract or detached feeling.”

There are ways that you can become more empathetic, such as meeting new people with experiences that differ from your own (like volunteer at a homeless shelter and listen to the people there).

Try engaging in activities with people you care about and walk in their life.

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For instance, if you are Christian and have a friend of a different faith, go to their house of worship with them.

Learn what makes people who they are.

Learning to be empathetic will help you progress as a person with a deep understanding of others. 

“The highest form of knowledge is empathy.” — Bill Ballard

Patience is a key skill that will help you progress further in achieving your goals, just because of itself.

When you increase your level of patience, you are more adept at waiting for the right opportunities.

Remember my thoughts about progress and not taking steps backward?

Many times we are so unhappy with right now, and we lack patience so we take the first opportunity, even if we know it isn’t great.

Developing patience also improves our interactions with others because we can be less reactive, and more thoughtful. 

“Learning patience can be a difficult experience, but once conquered, you will find life is easier.” — Catherine Pulsifer

Each of these skills will help you be a better leader.

I don’t necessarily mean a management title or career path leader, but a person who naturally motivates, inspires, and guides others.

Those traits just happen to make the best professional leaders, as well.

How can you take these skills and step up your leadership game?

Focus on the competencies of leadership like problem-solving.

Practice thinking outside of the box and looking for innovative solutions.

Delegate tasks out and become comfortable doing so.

Improve the relationships you have at work and use all the other self skills to become the best version of yourself. 

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” Douglas MacArthur

Don’t get caught up on a singular goal or promotion because each of these key skills will open your life up to new possibilities.

Learning and growing are where the best progress is found.

Who do you think you could be if you invested time in each of these key skills?

Is the best version of yourself being buried in your quest for achievement?

Take a breath and let’s find out!

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