While poking around the internet, I recently bumped into a few articles that refer to a study by either Harvard or Stanford or both that concluded that 85% of one’s success at work is due to his/her attitudes and just 15% is due to technical skills [1, 2]. While most of us agree with this statement in principle, we could question how a survey could quantify attitudes and technical skills and the contributions of these traits to professional success.
The simple skills-attitudes competence model shown below will help quantify one’s talents and understand the relative contributions of skills and attitudes to professional success. This model is a graphical indication of one’s positioning with respect to technical skills (x-axis) and attitudes and behaviors (y-axis). Every job carries a certain level of expectation for both of these disciplines. A threshold line divides this landscape into the proficient and vulnerable zones. The position of the threshold line vis-à-vis the lines of expectation signifies a lower tolerance for poor attitudes in comparison to insufficient technical skills.
Consider six people, A to F, in the landscape. ‘A’ possesses lower than expected skills, but possesses the right attitudes to learn, grow and get things done. ‘B’ and ‘C’ possess the same level of skills as ‘A’, but possess worse attitudes and risk being labeled incompetent. ‘B’ could move into the secure zone by developing skills (transitioning along the x-axis) or by developing positive attitudes (transitioning along the y-axis) or by developing on both (transitioning along an inclined line). ‘D’ and ‘E’ may be extremely skilled; their skills may be critical to the success of the organization. However, if ‘D’ fails to fails to conform to the core values of the company or exhibits behavior that is difficult to tolerate, the organization may eliminate him from his position. ‘F’ possesses the best attitudes and skills and thrives in the organization. The farther away ‘F’ is from the threshold line, the more secure he or she is.
Use this skills-attitudes competence model to define tangible attributes of skills and attitudes expected of you in the context of your current position or your desired future position. Identify your position on this chart. Under the guidance of your supervisor and mentors, identify what skills and/or attitudes you can develop towards a successful and satisfying career.