Assessment of Context and Competencies


Now that we have clarity regarding our life’s main goals in the framework of our vision, we need to start setting up our career’s plan. As with any business plan, at the time of developing our business career, we need to have an awareness of the context of the market where we run it. A career in itself can be considered a company that also requires a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT) analysis based on the context.

Though it is generally known, we want to remind you that we live in the postindustrial era, where the skills and competencies that are demanded from the market are essentially different from those that were requested in the 19th and 20th centuries. The knowledge society requires ever more the so-called nonroutine skills, given the level of automation and the increasing complexity of the problems private and public sectors deal with.

As you can see in figure 6.1, there is an increasing demand for higherorder skills in the labor market like critical thinking, interpersonal skills, capacity for adaptability, and so on. The World Economic Forum has split in three blocks the competencies that will be needed to succeed in the 21st century (see figure 6.2): foundational literacies, competencies for complex challenges, and character qualities. More importantly, lifelong learning has become a prerequisite for creating a sustainable career.


Figure 6.1 The labor market increasingly demands higher-order skills

Source: (World Economic Forum n.d.) Adapted from Levy, Frank and Richard J. Murnane. Third Way NEXT. 2013.


Figure 6.2 Students require 16 skills for the 21st century

Source: (World Economic Forum n.d.)

This demand for new skills and competences constitutes the big picture of our career’s plans. As we move forward in the specifics of our plans, we need to keep in mind that we live and work in a dynamic and global market where the level of skills demanded is substantially different from the one required to the previous generations.

Skills and Competencies

For the sake of this workbook, we will distinguish skills from competencies. We consider skills as “specific intellectual and nonintellectual aptitudes that the individual commands at an average or above average level for example, programming skills, quantitative skills, general knowledge etc.”

Competencies are “observable, habitual behaviors that lead to success in a function or task” (Rajadhyaksha 2005).

The crucial difference between skills and competencies is that skills imply an aptitude that distinguishes us individually from other people. A competence is the aptitude that allows us to leverage our role within a team or an organization, for example, command of English language is a skill, but properly communicating in English is a competence. Someone could be very good at speaking English, but it does not mean they are good at communicating the message they want in English. Communication implies understanding the receiver’s background, knowing how to manage the so-called noises of communication, willingness, and attitude to code the message.

In the current context of increasing globalization and complexity, companies prefer more the capacity to work with others rather than individually; therefore, they appreciate more competencies than skills. Furthermore, as we move up on the ladder of our careers, our skills become less relevant than our competences because our responsibilities are more focused on conducting people, business units, and projects. Later in the workbook, we will offer lists of competences and will help you define them for your case.

Exercise—Do You Need to Boost Your Competencies?

A successful development of competencies requires a certain level of our skills. As said before, knowing English does not mean that you can communicate in English. However, you need to have an acceptable level of English before you start working with it.

But beyond skills, you need something we call attitude or character. Skills injected by character become competences. In simple terms, character or attitude is the capacity to exercise our skills in the right way, at the right time, with the right people. We want you now to briefly reflect on your character to have an initial insight on your level of competencies. Observe the following chart (see table 6.1):

Table 6.1 Balance of action thinking, feeling, accessing others

Action without

Thinking without

Feeling without

Accessing others without




Talk the issue to death


May not have the vital information. May not extract all the learning from
the consequences of action. May repeat actions not successful in the past.

Over-respond to emotional aspects without the calming influence of reason or past successes.

Lose the information that resides within formal sources or within one’s self.


Ignore or deny feelings and slip into habitual responses.

Intellectualize, rationalize, to avoid the task.

Lack candor in their feedback

Accessing others

Reinvent the wheel, no support, may offend.

Miss the knowledge and support of others. The benefit of others to push, challenge one’s thinking.

Unnecessary isolation.

Source: Author from (Fullan 2013)

Is any of those behaviors present in your life? If you are a doer, you will act many times without considering other people’s interests. If you tend to think over many times what you are supposed to do, it is likely that you will be testing continuously the patience of other people and the limits of your projects.

Any disbalance between thinking or acting or feeling or accessing others will limit your capacity to use your skills in the context of a team or an organization. In Chapter 10, we will work about character development that is the single most important factor that guarantees the exercise of skills, keeping the balance between thinking, acting, feeling, and accessing others.

Your Career at a Glance—An Exercise

We want you to take a look at your career till this point and understand how the context has influenced it. The future is more important than the past, but the latter offers lessons. We will do it through a very simple exercise that has been adapted from one created by IESE Business School.

1. You are asked to draw a general mapping of your life and career. To do that, you need to:

a. Split the career in equal parts between 4–6 quarters or stages (depending on how long your career has been).

b. In each stage, indicate the 1–2 personal and professional positive and negative top highlights. Indicate only the ones you consider memorable or determinant.

2. You must indicate the general, personal, and professional levels of satisfaction on a scale from 1–10 (1 being “not satisfied,” 4 “fairly satisfied,” 10 “completely fulfilled”).

3. Then, we suggest you map it using X-axis stages of the career and Y-axis for the level of satisfaction in each stage. The following graph is an example of how it could look like, but you can use your creativity!

Part of Exercise—Example “Your career at a glance”


4. Before moving forward, take some time to reflect on your career. How much do you feel the context has impacted your decisions? How far your career has contributed to your level of personal satisfaction? In which extent, your life and career support or hinder each other?







Now, please turn to the next exercise in your personal and career journey “Leader’s Journal” and fill in your roadmap—2.1. Retro analysis (based on IESE test).

The Impact of the Corporate Context

Our experience indicates that many times, the general level of satisfaction does not correlate with the peak of our careers. The unfortunate most common situation is simply too much work, too little family. This imbalance does not work well, even from a business perspective, as we know that managers who are not satisfied with life will end up losing satisfaction in career as well.

In order to work on this, IESE business school has created an index to study how businesses are doing regarding family–work balance, the IFREI (IESE Family Responsible Employer Index). It looks at policies, facilitators, culture, and results. At the end of the study, it classifies businesses in four groups according to how they make it easy for family–work balance:

A. Enriching: Environment that systematically facilitates work–family balance

B. Positive: Environment that occasionally facilitates work–family balance

C. Difficult: Environment that occasionally hinders work–family balance

D. Contaminating: Environment that systematically hinders work– family balance

In the global study (2012), almost half of the businesses are in the C group, whereas only one of each 10 businesses are in the A group. These are the numbers for the global study:

A. World: 10 percent

B. World: 29 percent

C. World 49 percent

D. World 12 percent

Of course, in order to have a healthy personal and career development, it is crucial to find ways to balance work and family life and to find the appropriate corporate context. If you look at your career or life map from the previous section, you might find out that some of the moments where general satisfaction was low were correlated with a work environment leaning toward C to D levels. It is certainly very challenging for a manager to have an acceptable level of career and life satisfaction if the environment where he or she operates is neither enriching nor supportive.

Conclusions—Avoiding the Risk of Social Conditioning

The context is a fundamental element of our life or career development. We are social creatures and, therefore, we tend to accommodate to the context and to the people who are around us—to act in a way the society and peer groups approve. Though we need alignment with the context, a pure attitude of social conformity will hinder our capacity for leadership and for use of our potential life.

In this chapter, we have stated the difference between skills and competencies. Our character determines our level of competencies. Skills make us effective as individual contributors; competencies make our skills valid in the context of teams and organizations. Competencies are built upon the skills, so it means that competencies do not substitute skills, and in a certain way, they are skills put in action in team settings.

The corporate context and our workload impact our level of career and life satisfaction. We have taken a flashback picture of our career or life development in order to start planning the future.

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