5 Personal Core Competencies for the 21st Century

Last Updated Aug 14, 2009 11:09 AM EDT

Every epoch requires people and organizations to develop core competencies or skills needed to be successful. In the time of Henry VIII (yes, I am watching The Tudors), key competencies to master probably included fealty to a powerful lord and skill with a rapier. Not so much in demand today, however.

What are the core competencies needed in this century? Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Helen Haste has identified five that we should begin teaching our students. We business managers should also consider how to bring these skills to our companies and careers.
  • Managing Ambiguity. "Managing ambiguity is that tension between rushing to the clear, the concrete, and managing this ambiguous fuzzy area in the middle. And managing ambiguity is something we have to teach. Because we have to counter the story of a single linear solution."
  • Agency and Responsibility. "We have to be able to take responsibility and know what that means. Being an effective agent means being able to approach one's environment, social or physical, with a confidence that one actually will be able to deal with it."
  • Finding and Sustaining Community. "Managing community is partly about that multitasking of connecting and interacting. It's also, of course, about maintaining community, about maintaining links with people, making sure you do remember your best friend's birthday, that you don't forget that your grandmother is by herself this weekend, and of course recognizing also that one is part of a larger community, not just one's own private little world."
  • Managing Emotion. "Really it's about getting away from the idea that emotion and reason are separate... Teaching young people to manage reason and emotion and not to flip to one or the other is an important part of our education process."
  • Managing Technological Change. "When we have a new tool, we first use it for what we are already doing, just doing it a bit better. But gradually, the new tool changes the way we do things. It changes our social practices."
See her video Five Competences for Adapting to a Changing World. (Sorry, no direct link available.)

What's missing from this list? What personal core competencies would you add that are necessary to be successful in our new century?
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.

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