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Skills vs. Attributes: What Should You Focus On to Be World Class in Your Profession

Are you looking to be a leader in your field?

Do you want to reach a world-class level of performance?

You could spend thousands of hours studying for college courses to learn new skills and pay tens of thousands of dollars for professional coaching, but if you don’t have the attributes to be successful at what you want to do, the hours and the money will be wasted.

In this article, you will learn:

  • The difference between skills and attributes
  • Which one you should focus on for your goals
  • How to develop the attributes you need for your goals
  • Where you can go to develop your attributes

This blog post will discuss what skills vs attributes means and why you should focus on developing your strengths rather than trying to overcome weaknesses if you want to rise to the top.

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!”

What is a Skill

A skill is defined as the ability to do something well.

  • If you want to write a book, you must know how to write.
  • If you want to compete in a triathlon, you must know how to swim, run, and ride a bicycle.
  • If you want to convey a technical idea to a nontechnical person, you must have solid communication skills (assuming you also have the technical skills to know what you’re talking about).

What is an Attribute

“Skills don’t tell us how people behave in uncertainty, attributes do.” 
Rich Diviney on the Art of Charm podcast

If skills can be taught, then attributes are qualities we possess in varying levels.

Things like confidence, determination, and creativity are personal attributes.

Personal attributes aren’t necessarily directly related to your professional responsibilities. However, they can amplify your technical skills and soft skills, allowing you to excel when the people around you are more skilled—but lack certain attributes you’ve spent more time developing.

Confidence is a great example of an attribute that isn’t directly related to most jobs, but can open doors in any profession.


Confidence means trusting yourself and your ability to walk into the unknown and believe you’ll come out the other side in one piece.

If you don’t have that belief, why would you ever try new things? Why would you put yourself into situations you’re unsure of?

When you are confident in yourself, you are willing to step outside your comfort zone because you know that’s where you will grow and find your potential.

What is the Difference Between Skills and Attributes

Skills can be taught and attributes cannot—but that doesn’t mean they can’t be improved.

For example:

  • I can teach you how to lift weights, but I can’t teach you to be strong.
  • I can teach you how to paint, but I can’t teach you to be creative.
  • I can teach you how to look at adversity, but I can’t teach you to be resilient.
  • I can teach you how to think analytically, but I can’t teach you to be intelligent.

People can teach you what confidence is and teach you how to develop confidence, but those are not the same as teaching you to be confident.

What do I mean by that?

I can tell you the definition of confidence is a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities. 

A.k.a.—confidence means you believe in yourself.

But are you more confident as an individual now that you know that?

I can also tell you that to develop your confidence, you should put yourself in uncomfortable situations everyday and reflect on what you learned afterward.

But are you more confident as an individual now that you know that, too?

In order to develop your confidence, you have to put that knowledge into action.

Developing your confidence is the key to unlocking the universe

Skills vs. Attributes—Which One Matters

This is dependent on what you want to do.

Skills are what you use daily to directly improve your effectiveness in your field of work.

Attributes are traits you possess (i.e. patience, integrity, ambition) that take initiative and a willingness to put yourself out there in order to develop.

The skills and attributes necessary to be a top performer in sales are not the same as those necessary to be a top performer in stand up comedy.

There are several factors to consider in figuring out which one matters more in your situation:

  • What attributes and skills do you currently possess?
  • What attributes and skills are required for the field of work you want to enter?
  • How badly do you want to pursue the field of work you’re interested in?

Those first two might seem obvious, right?

If you want to drive somewhere, you need to know where you are starting and then you need to know where you want to go.

If you want to go into sales but you don’t have any social skills, how are you going to connect with your potential customers? If you don’t have the attributes of persistence and resilience, how are you going to push through all of the rejection inherent in sales?

This is where the third bullet point comes into play.

It’s going to take a lot of work on your part to learn the social skills necessary to effectively connect with other people. But this is manageable because someone can teach you social skills.

Persistence and resilience, however, are attributes, so no one can teach you to be more persistent and resilient. You have to develop them on your own.

So let’s talk about an effective way to do just that!

Taking risks is crucial to reaching your potential

How Do You Develop Attributes

Developing an attribute is something that happens over time as you expose yourself to situations that require the attribute.

Below are just a handful of examples of attributes with a couple of methods you can use to develop them. The methods are generalized because developing an attribute in one area takes time and experience.

For example, if I develop my confidence in social situations by striking up a conversation with a stranger everyday, I will be supremely confident in my ability to strike up a conversation with a stranger after just a few weeks.

But if I then walk into the NFL combine with no experience playing sports, I can fake being confident but I’ll have no idea what is going on or what will be expected of me.

Not to mention, my performance will be garbage because I have no athletic experience.

Confidence comes from doing. The same goes for all attributes.

So if you want to develop one of your attributes, apply the suggested method to the field of work you want the attribute to benefit you in.

To develop persistence:

  • Find a powerful “why” for what you’re doing so you can push through the struggles and adversity to reach your goals.
  • Examples of a powerful “why” might include: 
    • “My family is depending on me to provide for them”
    • “My employees are counting on me to be my best everyday”
    • “I want to be healthy enough to play with my grand kids”
    • “My patients might not survive if I don’t get enough rest every night”
  • Surround yourself with humans who are persistent and will hold you accountable.

To develop confidence:

  • Put yourself in uncomfortable situations so you can learn that discomfort is critical to learning and shouldn’t be avoided.
  • Surround yourself with confident humans who will push you into uncomfortable situations and support you.

To develop resilience:

  • Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and allow yourself to be honest and vulnerable in life—you will inevitably get rejected/hurt, then push through the pain, and search for the valuable lessons the pain teaches you.
  • Embrace pain and suffering rather than avoiding it.

To develop creativity:

  • Create art, create music, create solutions to problems you find interesting.
  • Spend 30-60 minutes creating something new everyday.

In a Nutshell

The difference between skills and attributes can be difficult to understand, but it’s essential to know the distinction in order to find fulfillment and success in life.

Skills are what you do on a day-to-day basis that help develop your knowledge base or expertise within an area of focus.

Attributes are qualities about yourself like confidence, resilience, and creativity that can’t be taught but take initiative and a willingness to put yourself out there in order to develop.

So which one should you focus on developing?

It really depends on your goals and how much time and effort you want to put into improving these two areas of self-development. If you’re looking for advice from someone who has been successful with both sides, we recently had Rich Diviney on our podcast who shared his powerful insights on this topic.

If you’d like to learn how to confidently go after all of your big goals without hesitation, we’re here for you. We can help you make this happen by providing expert coaching in our X-Factor Accelerator mentorship program. You’ll develop the attributes you need to attract the right people, forge meaningful relationships, and create life-changing opportunities in your life and career.

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