Asia School of Business

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Top 10 Smart Skills to Become Market Ready Transformative Leaders


I am asked many, many times, as a professor and public speaker, what skills do I think people need today to develop the most. Do we all need to learn AI, coding, bitcoins, finance? Or do we need to work on communication, negotiation, managing people, etc.

At ASB we think believe that “Enough with ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ Skills—Let’s Get Smart and Sharp Instead” and we challenge the traditional terminology of “soft and hard” skills and replaced it instead with “smart” and “sharp” skills, along with a pedagogical change to reflect the linguistic change. I think of “smart” skills as the skills one needs to successfully navigate through life. At ASB, smart skills are those that require our students to respond to situations and challenges with intelligence and diplomacy.

They include, among others, creative and critical thinking, emotional maturity and empathy, cognitive readiness, social intelligence, adaptability, ethical and cultural awareness, self-awareness, personal discipline, a global mindset, collaboration and team work (from brainstorming to execution), knowing when to listen, validation, humility, entrepreneurial mindset, followership, humility, flexibility, willingness to learn, innovation, open mindedness, creativity, dependability, managing up, down and across, networking, etc.

The “sharp” skills comprise technical capabilities such as data analytics, optimization, risk assessment, system dynamics, and machine learning, for example. And my goal as an academic leader to teach these skills, along with my colleagues, in practice as well as in theory. So without further ado, here are the “smart” skills that I look for most when I hire or work with someone, and the skills that I want my #ASB students to develop along with their “sharp” skills.

  1. Emotional Maturity = “refers to your ability to understand, and manage your emotions”. You have heard me say over and over again in my talks or masterclasses: “The Job is Easy, The People are Not” and the reason why is partially because of our abilities to manage our emotions both in a professional and personal setting.
  1. Validation = “the ability to provide recognition or affirmation that a person (including yourself) or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile”. Oprah said that we all need it (validation) and I learnt that the hard way! Also, goes back to “The Job is Easy”…
  1. Knowing When to Listen = “the ability to focus completely on the person/s speaking, understand their message, comprehend the information and respond thoughtfully.” I ask my students to listen more, to focus on the problem before they focus on the solution. And I know I need to work on this too! Again, the Job is Easy, if the People are too!
  1. Followership = “the capacity or willingness to follow a leader.” My mental model of following a leader comes from Star Trek Next Generation (how else) between Captain Picard and “Number One” Will Riker. Riker disagrees with Picard but only privately, and in public, he is his Captain biggest supporter.
  1. Managing Up =
    Classic Definition – Managing up is about developing a good working relationship with a superior.
    Modern Definition – Managing up is solving problems that your stakeholders need solved.Are you a difficult boss? I am, because I expect everything I asked for and some change. And that doesn’t make me popular with many. But it turns out that for most of us, if you know how to solve the problems of your stakeholders in the way they want it solve (and some change), you will become hard to replace. I give a masterclass on Managing up in executive education at ASB. Ask me more…
  1. Humility =  “to recognize your value and others value while looking up. It is to see there is far greater than ourself into who we can become, who others can become, and how much more we can do and be.” Our ASB President, MIT Sloan Prof. Charlie Fine says: the world is full of smart and arrogant people out there. I wanna work with the smart and humbled ones. The truth is that the ability to be humble is a practice. I learnt that “the more i know the less i know” and also, that arrogance and ignorance are best of friends. So you wanna become more humble? Learn more so you realize how little you know!
  1. Adaptability = “an ability or willingness to change in order to suit different conditions”. One of my favorite fields of knowledge is evolution and like Darwin said, the only species who survive are the fast and adaptable ones (have you seen any dinosaurs lately?) Same with the humans. Professionals with strong adaptability skills will make it. The rest are probably going to spend their time in Jurassic Park 😉
  1. Cultural and Ethical Literacy = “the competence and knowledge of understanding of the differences between yourself and people from other countries/backgrounds/race/religion, especially differences in attitudes and values” and “the willingness and ability to identify moral and ethical contexts and dilemmas“. And because of the global expansion of the workforce, there was never a better time in our history when these 2 critical smart skills were more needed.
  1. Strategic and Critical Thinking = “the process of conceptualizing applying, analyzingsynthesizing, and evaluating information to reach a goal, and have a plan for execution”. Every time I ask an employer about what skill they value the most, strategic and critical thinking come on top. Obviously, right? This smart skill empowers you to solve complex problems in the absence of a blueprint and SOPs.
  2. Cognitive Readiness = “the mental preparation (including skills, knowledge, abilities, motivations, and personal dispositions) that a person needs to establish and sustain competent performance in our complex and unpredictable environment”. This is a hard one and that’s why I left it for the end… Leaders and their teams, have to be constantly prepared to face ongoing dynamics, ill-defined, and unpredictable challenges in the digital, highly disruptive and VUCA-driven business environment. I also run a Master class on this if you wanna know more.

So now the question is how you manage to build up all these skills? There is a complicated answer (which probably requires a book) but for me, the simple answer is constant Action Learning, Learning in Action and Reflection. Just what we do here at ASB! So, let us know, what are your top SMART skills? What are you looking most to develop and what are you looking most for in other people?

Prof.Dr. Loredana Padurean is the Associate Dean and Faculty Director for Action Learning at Asia School of Business and she holds an appointment as International Faculty Fellow at MIT Sloan where she teaches in the Executive Education program on topics of intra/entrepreneurship.

At ASB, Prof. Loredana has been one of the key nailers behind the establishment of the school and in particular the development of the globally recognized action learning program at ASB. She is a global entrepreneurial academic and international public and Ted speaker in US, Asia Pacific and Europe.

She can be contacted at

If you are interested to know more about our Action Learning click here.