Behavioural skills for the 21st Century

Written by Stephen Walker on 18 April 2017 in Opinion

What behavioural skills do you need to succeed in the 21st century? Stephen Walker gives us his opinion.

Does anyone want to hazard a guess what the job titles in demand in 2100 might be? Or in 2050? How many jobs today didn’t exist when you received your education?

The evolution of employable skills is accelerating. Does this mean that the title of this piece is nonsense?

I don’t think so, as there is a need for everyone to plan their own development. We all need a set of behaviours that develops our skills and produces good outcomes.


There is a useful skill - learning to learn. Once you are past 18 how much is learned is down to the individual. Learn to be self-motivated and a self-starting learner when you can.

The rate of change of required workplace skills means you need to learn continually, to upgrade your skills, every few years at least.

The Internet

Today you can access online training courses, over 400 million free, and over a 1000 million paid for, according to Google.

Your time is limited, don’t squander it on worthless training.

Whether you want to design a logo or lay a hedge (Google it), there are dozens of immediately available courses, videos and documents showing you what to do.

You need a skill to make the best use of this wealth. You need to be able to choose wisely. Your time is limited, don’t squander it on worthless training. You need to develop a skill to let you choose which source is trustworthy and which to avoid. And I don’t think price is a good guide any more.

To go with the self-motivation and the wisdom to choose a good training course, you need the time, the peace of mind and access to the Internet to grasp the learning opportunity.

Team working

Successfully working in a team is a skill. The need to adopt changing roles in the team depending on the task at hand is challenging, if you don’t understand what is required.

It requires the skills of empathy, leadership and motivation: neatly labelled as emotional intelligence.

More and more of us are working as independent contractors. But even we need to work in teams, virtually or physically, just like our employed cousins.

Forming joint ventures, collaborations of independent contractors, is a similar skill with added business overtones. As organisations hollow out, leaving minimal core staff with outsourced specialist staff doing most of the work, more and more of us will work as independents.


Working as an independent contractor means managing uncertainty. The absence of the monthly pay cheque requires new skills.

The Portfolio Worker, much explained by Drucker, needs the skill of self-reliance. What do you do when your only contract is terminated? Or the top three contracts lost all in the same week? You need to learn to diversify the outlets for your talents.

Those talents have the same rate of obsolescence as your employed cousins and perhaps even a faster rate. There will always be someone more up to date, cheaper, more accessible, trying to take your contract away from you.

Brand You

Employed or independent, you need your own brand. What are you to be known for? What is your specialism? Why are you the 'obvious' choice? The answers to these questions can’t be allowed to develop accidently. They must be coherent at least, and, ideally, be in line with your technical skill and interests.

Your technical skill and your interests develop into your voice. You want to become known as the person who is THE expert on left-handed corkscrews (Google returns 163,00 results even for that!).

When you have a brand, you need to market it, or it is just a worthless vanity. When you have developed your marketing, as an employee or an independent, you need to publicise it. You need to build your own followers, your cheer leaders, your tribe.

The smaller your niche, and clearly left-handed corkscrews is a competitive market, the easier to be THE expert. Your niche must be big enough to provide a living.


21st century behavioural skills is too broad a title, but my top skills for the next five years are:

  • Self-motivation, self-starting
  • Wise value judgement
  • Self-development, learning
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Self-reliance, grit
  • Personal Branding

What do you see as the top skills?


About the author

Stephen Walker is co-owner of Motivation Matters, dedicated to raising profitability, competitive advantage, innovation, productivity and employee engagement.

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