Primary Skills vs Secondary Skills

Xperience Growthblogposts

Tiger Woods stood on the first tee that overlooks the Pacific Ocean at the legendary golf course at Torrey Pines in Southern California. He was in the lead by one stroke heading into the fourth round of the U.S. Open in 2008.

Tiger was the best golfer in the world as he stood over that tee shot. He drew his driver back, powered through the ball with a loud pop and drove it way left of the fairway, even beyond where the spectators lined up to see him.

Not more than 20 minutes before that errant tee shot he had been warming up. He hit perfect shot after perfect shot. There was an account of his final prep that said he hit 3 shots with the same driver that failed him on the first tee some 300 yards with each ball landing within feet of the others.

On that first tee in the fourth round, Tiger’s primary skills weren’t the problem, it was his secondary skills.

All of us have two main sets of skills – primary skills and secondary skills.

Primary skills are those that are important to our job, sport, craft. For a golfer – a professional like Tiger or a weekend warrior – the primary skills are similar. They include how flush you hit the golf ball, ability to read the greens, understanding ground and air conditions relating to your golf shot.

Similarly, executives & entrepreneurs have primary skills. These skills include executing the product or service, talent recruitment & engagement, deciphering P/L, making key decisions, communicating a vision.

Primary skills are the skill set to do your craft.

There is an equally important set of skills that will provide the foundation and energy for you to perform those primary skills at your best. That group is called secondary skills.

Secondary skills include your physical, emotional, mental & spiritual states.

Physical State

You know how when you have a cold, everything just seems harder. Can you do it? Of course. Your physical state having a lingering cold just makes it feel like the battle is more uphill.

Take that known experience of a cold making things feel harder and then bit easier once the cold subsides and extrapolate that out to being in in-optimum health vs optimum health.

When you have your nutrition, exercise, sleep dialed in it give you even more physical energy & strength to apply to your craft.

Do you have afternoon ruts that you medicate with caffeine or sugar only to crash? Do you have a rough time getting going in the morning? There’s a strong chance that you can address those issues with some combination of tweaking your nutrition, exercise, sleep.

Emotional State

Many of you heard the adage that “emotions make you act.” This is proven true because it’s our emotions that prepare our body to do something.

Feeling fear? Your mind signals cortisol and blood flowing to extremities to run towards or away from something. Feeling happy? Your mind is releasing oxytocin &/or serotonin that promotes you having higher levels of executive thought & action.

Imagine how much better you’d perform your craft if you felt supremely confident in yourself and your ability? Or if you felt excited for the challenge instead of feeling worried?

Mental State

In a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certified class I took, we were asked to do an exercise with eating mindfully. It’s called Noticing the Raisin.

In the exercise, we took a raisin and studied what it looked like & felt like. At one point we were encouraged to explore what it sounded like. Then we smelled it before slowly eating it bite-by-bite noticing the flavoring and texture of it.

This is all well and good… unless of course you’re like me and HATE raisins. I would be willing to eat almost anything besides a raisin. I avoid foods I even think could have raisins in them.

Yet, there I was Noticing the Raisin. Instead of just defaulting to “I hate this and everything about this,” I practiced the mental state of curiosity… “What specifically am I tasting now?” and give my non-judgmental sensations of what I was experiencing during that exercise.

What if you stayed in curiosity instead of judgment? You took the extra step to ask “What specifically am I experiencing?” as opposed to a broad stroke interpretation? It would allow you to stay out of judgment of yourself and others. That skill would allow you to tap into a growth mindset, be willing to experiment more and detach from specific outcomes that need to happen.

Spiritual State

I love seeing people succeed at their highest levels with joy. Give them permission to stretch their goals and visions for themselves and step into that. That drives me and gives me energy. Especially when those people are pushing the boundaries and doing extraordinary things.

Being alongside the best-of-the-best as they find more and more unlocks to their skills and abilities, putting that into action and seeing the results gives me tremendous energy.

That is my spiritual state at work. I tap into my desire to affect top performers and it creates the north star in the compass that I use to steer my actions.

What drives you? What are the intrinsic and extrinsic pulls that give you a sense of something bigger than you? Lean into that path and you’ll find greater flow and abilities you may not have even known were in you.

Tiger Woods in 2008 had the best primary skills in the world. His secondary skills in that moment of being on that tee box with a 1 shot lead to start the fourth round let him down. He was dealing with an injury that might have contributed to his slow start. He could have put too much pressure on himself to win being so close. Yet, we cannot say that he forgot how to swing a golf club.

The thing that made Tiger the champion he is, in fact, IS his secondary skills. See, in his hay-day where he won 14 major championships in a dozen years, it was his ability to finish strong amid the pressure that allowed him to score better than his opponents.

Tiger gave up his lead that day. He finished the day tied with Rocco Mediate to force an 18 playoff the next day. Tiger, hobbled and in noticeable physical anguish that day, mustered a win on a sudden-death 19th hole securing a dramatic 14th Major Championship.

Secondary skills are the foundation to your primary skills.