The Secret Skill of Top Executives

When I was starting my career, I was obsessed with learning and mastering new skills. I felt like I had to know how to do everything. I thought that technical skills were the reason why someone would hire and promote you. To a certain extent that’s true, but as my career has progressed, I’ve discovered that there is a skill that’s far more valuable. This skill is not taught in a classroom or at a bootcamp, but developing this skill will make you invaluable and help advance your career:

Break down problems and simplify everything in a very short amount of time.

I’ve interacted with many high level executives in my career. Whether it’s directly working with them, getting sage advice, interviewing them, or selling them my services, I’ve had the privilege of learning from some great executives. But the ones that have stood out to me were the ones who could understand what I had been working on for weeks and make it better in a matter of minutes. It’s truly awe inspiring when this happens.

How Do Executives Do This?

Since this is a skill I am still mastering, I have a few working theories as to how these executives are able to simplify problems quickly.

  1. They’re Really Smart – Some people have minds that work in a way that everyone else just can’t comprehend. The best executives I know are just really smart people (this has nothing to do with grades in school either).
  2. They Ask the Right Questions – Asking a question vs. asking the right question is a skill in itself. During my time interviewing CEOs for articles, I’ve discovered that I struggle finding the right wording to a question to get me my desired answer. You don’t need five questions when you can ask just one question and get all the information you need. Great executives know how to ask the right questions.
  3. They’re Experienced – Experience doesn’t mean years as a professional. It refers to the number of times you’ve been in a situation (like a pitch meeting). If you hear enough presentations, sales pitches, and requests for advice, you’ll start to see patterns. This will help you anticipate questions and better understand what different audiences will be looking for.

This Quora thread has great stories about how Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, is able to pick up on what’s going on in meetings very quickly and able to help narrow down the focus very quickly. Like I previously mentioned, when you experience this in person, it’s truly remarkable.

The further you progress in your career, the less your actual technical skills will matter. How well you write code, how knowledgeable you are when it comes to SEO, all of these skills diminish in value. At some point you’ll no longer be hired because you can do these things on a day-to-day basis. Your value will lie in your ability to manage, lead, and communicate.

Being able to quickly understand problems by different teams and help come up with solutions or guide the team to the right path on their own is one skill that’s extremely vital to an executive. Make sure you work on developing this skill as you gain experience and your career will advance.

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