What skills do you really need to succeed? In school, they taught us history and algebra and if we got good SAT scores they said we'd succeed. But are those the skills we really need? Developmental psychologist Susan Engel researched the skills that actually predicted success. I'll give you a hint--differential calculus isn't on the list. Here are the 7 skills that are critical for success.

1. Reading.

Of course, you can read. If you couldn't you wouldn't be reading this. Engel defines reading as follows: "It means having the ability to read an essay or book and understand it well enough to use the information in some practical way or to talk about it with another person."

I'd like to ask a different question: Do you read? Do you apply what you've learned? Share it with others? People who read fiction, for instance, are more empathetic. That empathy can certainly help you be a better boss.

2. Inquiry.

If you're running a startup, you probably already have this skill down. After all, the purpose of every startup is to either solve a problem that exists or convince people that they have a problem so you can sell them the solution. But, the question is, do you allow your employees the same level of inquiry?

Are ideas encouraged? If they are, are they encouraged at all levels of your work force, or are they welcomed just from your senior team? The process of inquiry is the process that will lead your company to success. Keep asking those questions.

3. Flexible thinking and the use of evidence.

Sometimes we get focused on the solution we think is right, and we forget that there are many different angles for looking at each problem. When I taught political science courses, I'd have students write a persuasive essay on a controversial subject. Then, I'd have them write a second essay arguing the opposing viewpoint. There's a good chance you had a professor that required the same, but do you do this now?

Have you really looked at your decisions from all sides? Are you looking at evidence or are you rejecting anything that doesn't back up your predetermined conclusion? And when you find new evidence, you need to change your course of action.

4. Conversation.

Engel identifies conversation as a way that children gain not only the ability to communicate, but also pegs it as a way that children actually learn. "Children living in poverty are much less likely to hear and be part of such rich exchanges at home," Engel says. Have you put yourself into such an environment? Not that you aren't speaking with your colleagues daily. Of course you are. But, are you having rich conversations about a variety of subjects that expands your mind? If you're hyper-focused on your business, you just may have given up the conversations that can actually help you.

5. Collaboration.

Are you working together with others, or simply directing their work? Some people are natural-born collaborators and others of us prefer to sit alone. While the idea of the lone genius is interesting enough, you'll find yourself better off if you work in a collaborative mode.

6. Engagement.

How successful are you on a project that you hate and wish you could avoid? Not very, right? Do you have enough of interest going on that you can "immerse" yourself in work? Is there something that excites you?

What about your team? Are you making sure that employee engagement is high on your list of priorities? Because your company's success isn't just dependent on your engagement but on the engagement of your employees.

7. Well-being.

Remember, you're a human and your employees are human as well. It's critical to know if you and they are happy. And if you're not happy? It's time to change that. The children that Engel studies don't have a great deal of freedom in their own lives (after all, they are children), but you do. If things are not working out for you, you can change what you are doing.

Some circumstances we're stuck with. If you have a chronic health problem, it's not like you can just wake up one morning and say, "I'm not going to be sick anymore." But, you can choose your friends, your job, your method for getting to work, what you read, what you watch on television, and how you treat your dry cleaner. If you're not in a state of happiness, the best thing to do is to start making some changes.

Published on: Mar 9, 2015