The Core Five Organizational Skill-Sets

CM-Scale of Justice
The Core Five core skill-sets and its assessment serve as a guide to personal development for those who are who desire get to the c-level OR for the entrepreneur who wants to scale the business. The Core Five model helps you understand your strengths and correct their weakness.


by Murray Johannsen. First Published on March 27, 2014. Mr. Johannsen also routinely does Live Presentations for corporations and associations. Feel to connect via Linkedin, or by email.

Table of Contents

Two ClassicModels For Organizational Skill-Sets

The Core Five Skill-Sets: Executive Summary

• The Importance of Technical Skills In the Information Age

The Leadership Domain:

Strategy and Tactics:



Skill-Sets Standing the Test of Time

Enhance Your Expertise: Related Articles

Resources & References

Two Classic Models of Organizational Skill-Sets

“A competitive world has two possibilities for you. You can lose. Or, if you want to win, you can change.”  — Lester Thoreau, Dean, Sloan School of Management, M.I.T., 60 Minutes, February 7, 1988


A classic view on organizational skills was contained in an article titled the “Skills of the Administrator” published in the Harvard Business Review (Katz, 1955). The author promoted the view that the necessary skills needed in modern organizational life can be grouped into three general areas:

    • Technical Skills
    • Conceptual Skills, and
    • Human Relations Skills

However, while the Katz model still contains important insights on organizational skills, it possesses certain limitations, especially for:

a. Those who want to break into the executive ranks or

b. The entrepreneur who wants to be more than a sole proprietor.

c. What was done in the 50’s, may not be completely relevant  for this century.

Some of these domains between the Katz model and the Core Five are the same, but others are quite different (See the summary table below).

 Johannsen’s Core Five Skills Katz Administrative  Skill-Sets 
Leadership Human Relations
Technical Technical
 Strategy & Tactics Conceptual

The Core Five core competencies model and its assessment serve as a guide to personal development for those who are who desire get to the c-level OR for the entrepreneur who wants to scale the business. Its designed to help individuals understand their strengths and correct their weakness. 

The Core Five Competency Model 

Painting is symbolic of how each person in a high performing group doing their job. Notice that you have a boss in the group who is not doing anything. John George Brown (1831–1913): All Pull Together
Painting is symbolic of how each person in a high performing group doing their job. Notice that you have a boss in the group who is not doing anything. John George Brown (1831–1913): All Pull Together

This core competencies model consists of five categories of skill-sets.


Technical stays as technical. Technology is still a tool, whether it is a hammer, a WIFI network, a gun or artificial intelligence. Throughout your career, you will need to update technical expertise. 


Rather than using the general term human relations, the Core Five uses the term leadership. Entrepreneurs and executives have extremely important leadership roles, whether they perform them or not. 

Strategy and Tactics

The conceptual domain shifted slight to Strategy and Tactics, a term borrowed from the military. Nothing wrong with being a theory wonk writing a scholarly work few will read. But it’s the ability to execute that makes for a great entrepreneur and executive. 


In the Core Five, the management domain was added, a major omission in the Katz model. It is pretty much impossible to be a executive or an entrepreneur without the ability to manage. The b-schools have a point, organizations, projects, process, resources, and money need managers. 


The fifth skill set in the Core Five is self-mastery. This was added to address a major blind spots in most people. Few know their weaknesses, and even if known, are clueless about how to decrease them. For how can one achieve success if one posses numerous weakness or heaven forbid, a fatal flaw?  

And now we will go through each of them, starting with the technical  area.

Skill-Set One Domain #1: The Technical Arena

“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” — Henry David Thoreau

Example of a technical tool. X-Ray crystallography is a tool used for identifying the atomic and molecular structure of a crystal. Image at: Kaspar Kallip
Example of a technical tool. X-Ray crystallography is a tool used for identifying the atomic and molecular structure of a crystal. Image at: Kaspar Kallip


“Today’s business graduates have an abundance of technical knowledge. They can do linear programming, calculate a discounted rate of return, develop a sophisticated marketing plan, and crunch numbers on a computer spreadsheet. They’re technically solid, but most lack the interpersonal and social skills necessary to lead people.” — Robbins, S. (1989)

A revolution is sweeping the world at this very moment. It promises things like:

    • Robotic maids,
    • Replaceable body parts, and
    • Electric clothes.

In the next 100 years, we will see more change occurring than what happened during the last 100. What does this mean? It means you must continually improve yourself and your skills.

The importance of the technical in mix of organizational skill-Sets cannot be over estimated. In fact, a recent Brookings Institution  study showed that in almost all career categories, the information technology component went up. In fact, a robust set  of IT skills may be a way to lower your likelihood of being replaced by machine intelligence.

Domain #2:  Leadership Skill-Sets

“Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men — the other 999 follow women.” — Groucho Marx

Image by Lumaxart
Image by Lumaxart

“You manage things. You lead people.” — Grace Hopper, USN, Rear Admiral

Assuming you have the right mix of technological competencies, what else does one need? If you answered leadership, give yourself a B. If you think transformational leadership, give yourself an A.

By definition, a Great Entrepreneur or a great executive must be a transformational leader. Founders have to find a crew, train that crew, and build a group of strangers into a high performance team while making continuous improvements to the norm. And executives need to be transformational if their organizations are to change and innovate.

“My father had a simple test that helps me measure my own leadership quotient: When you are out of the office he once asked me, does you staff carry on remarkable well without you?” — Martha Peak, 1992

It has long been known that while top-notch technical skills allow one to be considered for the first-level of the management chain, it’s people skills that allow you to keep the job. Too often, a technical expert gets promoted and then can’t get along with others — creating a lose-lose situation for both organization and individual.

It’s important to understand that a key source of job dissatisfaction is the quality of the relationship that exists between an employee and the boss. If their manager lacks organizational leadership skills, morale goes into the dumpster and turnover skyrockets.

Still, management rarely wants to spend hard dollars in leadership training since these are considered to be a “soft” skills. It seems to me, that top management’s failure to understand the importance of developing leadership and social skills in the work force is penny-wise and pound-foolish (to quote Ben Franklin).

The venture capital guys like to say that one of their major criteria for putting money into an enterprise is a high-performance team — that great teams build great organizations. That’s not a bad thought, but a team doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a leader who can mold individuals into a unit that’s tougher and stronger than individual members.

The Strategy and Tactics Skill-Set

“Looking for differences between the more productive and less productive organizations, we found that the most striking difference is the number of people who are involved and feel responsible for solving problems.” — Michael McTague, Management and training consultant, Personnel Journal, March 1986

A classic symbol for the game of business, chess requires one to think ahead more than one move and to anticipate the moves of others an important element of competitive strategy and tactics. Image by: Mutante
A classic symbol for the game of business, chess requires one to think ahead more than one move and to anticipate the moves of others an important element of competitive strategy and tactics. Image by: Mutante

“My sister lived in Burma and was having some wiring installed by a native electrician. Again and again he would come to her for instructions, and finally, in exasperation, she said, “You know what I want done. Why don’t you use your common sense and do it?” He made a grave bow and said, “Madam, common sense is a rare gift of God. I have only a technical education.” — Carl Compton in the The Public Speaker’s Treasure Chest

The Origen Of Strategy & Tactics

Strategy originates from military doctrine, getting drummed into both officers and NCOs as essential to achieving any objective. Strategy consists of three elements: first defining a current state and then the desired state. Once those two states get fleshed out, it is time to come up with the plan that closes the performance gap between the two states. Those who were exposed to military thinking will recognize the importance of this dimension immediately. Essentially, it’s knowing what to do and doing it.

Sounds easy — but it is not. It is an extremely challenging endeavor in a complex, rapidly changing world to understand what to do and getting it done. Tactics are woven into strategy. You might say that good tactics rely on sound strategy. But while strategy is static, tactics are dynamic, changing, evolving. They exist in time, in a certain context, and require one to stay adaptable and flexible. 

Emmanuel Leutze (1816-1868), Washington Crossing the Delaware
Emmanuel Leutze (1816-1868), Washington Crossing the Delaware

There’s an old saying that goes, “No opportunity is ever wasted. If you miss it, one of your competitors will find it for you.” They must develop marketing, sales and competitive strategies that are better than their competitors if they hope to get to the front of the pack. Executives & entrepreneurs must deal with a rapidly changing environment full of risk and uncertainty. An even more subtle part of this skill set involves the ability to find new business opportunities. 

Strategy and tactics are largely conceptual skills dealing with the ability to use mental heuristics and relevant paradigms to solve problems and make decisions. 

Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel
Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel. One of the most phenomenal generals during World War II was the German Erwin Rommel. “The Desert Fox” was no slouch when it came to strategy, but what really set him apart was the ability to innovate in the middle of the chaos, the uncertainty of the battlefield. Like entrepreneurs, he had to feel his way through uncertainty and imperfect information to find the correct course of action.


When tactics are done well, we see flawless implementation. But too often we see sound strategy falling apart due to flawed tactics. And I’m convinced that many small business owners are blind to strategy, walking like a drunk down a road where they are really can barely see what the next step will be.

Domain 4: Management Skills and Abilities

“The most dominant executive decision type, will be decisions under uncertainty.” — Henry Tosi and Stephen Carroll (1976)

This Surikov painting is a metaphor for today’s large bureaucratic corporation or government agency. A boss gives orders, but doesn’t actually do any work. A small number are working really hard, engaged in backbreaking jobs. One (a friend of the boss, no doubt) is asleep and clueless. And there is a cadre of social loafers who don’t do much real work due to their special relationship with the authority figure.


[Referring to his managerial counterparts in local government:] How would you like to run a business where your top management can change every two years, your revenue can depend on the whims and fancies of state and national government, and you have to convince more than half a million people that you can collect garbage, control crime, enhance safety, and brighten the future better than anyone else?” — Anonymous executive, Chief Executive, Winter 1982-1983

The Five Classic Management Skills-Sets (What Get’s Taught in the Textbooks)

“Some leaders cannot manage — some managers cannot lead.” Murray Johannsen
A boat sailing
When the entrepreneur with a business degree tries to force fit the large business theory base onto small enterprise. It’s like the captain of an ocean liner trying to use big ship models to pilot a sailboat.

Despite the fact that many individuals inside organizations consider themselves to be part of management, there is a surprising amount of confusion on exactly what the term “management” means. If you accept the Wordnet definition from the site, it is “The act of managing something.” 

A better definition might be, “Management is the efficient allocation of scarce resources to accomplish an organizational goal.” Contrast this with one definition of entrepreneurial management that goes, “Entrepreneurship is pursing stretch goals without the resources to get there.”

But whatever definition you choose, good management is critical to good government and good business. Management texts classically define five management functions:

    • Planning,
    • Organizing,
    • Controlling,
    • Directing, and
    • Coordinating.

Entrepreneurs Need Different Skills-Sets Than Managers

The focus on management is important, but can be a trap for the entrepreneur. To understand why this is the case, we need to understand the fundamental context in which management is taught.

Essentially, a management degree creates a person with a set of competencies that work well in long established organizations. The theory base works best in large organizations with an established culture, hierarchy, policies, processes, and procedures. It works less well when one must create all these things from scratch.

Obviously, an entrepreneur needs managerial expertise. But it’s a special type of knowledge typically not taught well in b-schools. For example, one does not need 3 accounting classes to run a small business, nor do you need to know a lot about organizational development (which focuses almost exclusively on large companies). Some economics is helpful, but you probably don’t need 3 or 4 classes. Guerilla marketing is valuable, but it’s normally not taught. Sales skills would be really helpful, but that is not taught either. And of course, human relations skills such as leadership or team building is not covered in the core MBA.

However, one gets good coverage on how to work in large businesses selling products for a shelf; or hocking services to the minions via large budgets, big staffs and a humongous IT infrastructure.

I remember once running across a soon to hit the pavement MBA who was the product of a top MBA program. He described to me how he was going to China to fly to different cities and meet with potential customers. And then he said, “I’m really looking forward to this marketing job.” I said, “It sounds like sales to me.” To which he indignantly responded, “I don’t do sales.”

Recently Clay Christiansen, of the Harvard Business School, opened a conference on innovation in learning with a question: “Why is success so hard to sustain?” His provisional answer was “The reason companies cannot sustain success is that they follow the principles of good management that we teach at Harvard Business School.” (Hauser, 2012)

Self-Mastery: The Fifth Core Skill

“Know Thyself”-- Attributed to Pythagoras, Plutarch, Socrates, and Thales. Also the words found at the entrance of the most famous of the ancient Greek temples: The Temple of Apollo at Delphi
“Know Thyself”– Attributed to Pythagoras, Plutarch, Socrates, and Thales. Also the words found at the entrance of the most famous of the ancient Greek temples: The Temple of Apollo at Delphi


This area consists of the development factors necessary to “Be All You Can Be.” It’s a skill set not covered at all in the business schools or in technology programs. Even those with a psychology degree typically do not know how to make their minds run better. Typically, what goes unseen gets neglected.

There is an old story from the Middle East that illustrates this point.

One day a neighbor happens to walk by and see his friend Nasrudin looking for something so he asks, “Nasrudin, what have you lost?” “My key,” said Nasrudin. “Exactly where did you drop the key?” “In my house.” “Then why are you looking here for your key?” “There is more light here than in my house.” Moral of the Story: It’s where you are not looking that you will find the key to what you are looking for.

Finally, we come to the one core competency that almost no one focuses on — the domain of self-mastery. It’s here that we see often see the fatal flaw in both entrepreneurs and executives. Failure to master ones own mind is a weakness, one that can become a fatal flaw. 

When one is in power, even small faults become noticed, magnified, and discussed by underlings. Impatience as an engineer is barely noticed, but in the vice-president of engineering, it’s a major problem.

Sometimes its not just one thing, sometimes it is a number of these weaknesses. An experienced investor can easily come up with ten of these most of them unknown to the entrepreneur. One shouldn’t just pick on entrepreneurs, bad CEOs suffer from the same malady.

“The easiest person to deceive is one’s own self.” — Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1803-1873, English novelist and playwright

This was driven home in a recent book by Marshall Goldsmith called, “What Got You Here, Wont’ Get You There.” In this book he documented twenty-one major faults of the CEO’s he has seen in CEOs. These include faults such as:

    • Failing to give recognition,
    • Making excuses,
    • Acting like you know it all, and
    • Not listening.

Many of these are relatively simple behaviors, one mom should have taught them when they were kids. But now they find it next to impossible to change these undesired behaviors.

All entrepreneurs are forever unfinished works. They are imperfect, they have weaknesses, lack knowledge, have yet to gain experience. They must keep evolving, changing, and learning if their organizations are to innovate, change and evolve.  So remember:

“If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” — Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Skills-Sets That Will Stand The Test of Time

Given the rapid pace of technological change and advances in artificial intelligence, there are going to be whole job categories that will cease to exist. Organizational skill-sets know obsolete.

A new report by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that 30 percent of jobs on Earth could be automated by 2030. The displaced human worker, numbering about 800 million, might find alternative jobs if the world is prepared.

The following are roles that that will likely prosper in the first half of this century.

Be An Entrepreneur

You can’t fire the big boss — well that not quite true. Since most entrepreneurs are wise enough not to go public and have a board of directors they have life-time employment as long as they have a strong balance and they’re not stupid enough to let others control 51% of the stock.

Get to the c-Level

Honestly, sometimes I think a public corporation would if it could maximize profits by downsizing to one employee. Actually, a cynic would say that in a corporation of one, the poor CEO would likely keep a small group of sycophants to boss around. Remember, c-level executives rarely fire themselves for incompetence or to improve the bottom line.

Avoid Process Jobs, Find Project Work

Stay away from jobs where you do the same thing the same way. If you’re doing the same thing the same way, a machine can likely do it faster with fewer mistakes. Since projects have more variation that process, expert systems will have a tougher time doing it. That’s why one should consider developing project management skills.

Get Into Sales

I know, no self-respecting business major wants a job in sales. Huge mistake. Sales is the launch pad that rockets you into really understanding people (and why they buy no less).

Learn to Create and to Innovate

It sometimes thought that expert systems may not be able to create. They can learn, surely. But can they come up with ideas beyond their program parameters? Can they create art? Can they write a book? Actually, the last one is not so clear. Programs are already writing articles.

Add More Skills Beyond the Technical

Technical skills are important, but become less important as your responsibilities increase. As you get promoted other skill domains become more critical. Remember, entrepreneurs and executives rarely solve just technical problems.


“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Theodore Roosevelt, 26th American President

Johannsen’s Five Core Skill-Sets Model and The Core Five Assessment serve as a guide to personal development for those who want to fast track to the c-level, move up a level or two in their organizations, or help the entrepreneur who wants to scale the business. Its designed to help individuals understand their strengths and correct their weakness. 

Organizational Skill-Sets: Related Articles

Painting by: Joos de Momper (II) (1564–1635). Image by: Pauline M. The Tower of Babel is an organizational tale, a human enterprise that failed to achieve its objective. The skill that was missing? Communication skills.
“Some things change—some things don’t.”Morpheus, Matrix Reloaded
Times change. While there are some skills that are timeless, others reflect the zeiteist of the times. These tend to be careers that have some element of technological change that impacts it — which today is most careers in the developed world. 

Three Classic Organizational Skills

This article presents a classic view of the key administrative skills to develop. The three administrative competencies proposed by Katz are:
• Conceptual, 
• Human Relations, and 
• Technical. 
Worth looking at since it has staying power since first published in the Harvard Business Review in the 50s.

Management is Different From Leadership 

When you saw the statement above, many of you will go, “Well, duh.”  But what is obvious to a few is not so obvious to the many.  You still hear really intelligent people talk about “managing people.” But most people don’t want to be managed, they want to be led.

The Most Important Leadership Skills

 Skill development is necessary to climb the organizational latter. But what skills should you develop? Discover what the experts say on what are the most important leadership and management skills you can build for  organizational success.

A Final Word. The World is Changing — Stay Current in Your Skills.

A man working on a machine in the early part of mid-20th century. Source: U.S. Gov’t. War Department. Office of Indian Affairs


References And Resources

Sculpter Unknown: Statue d’ange symbolisant la sagesse. Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, dans l’escalier reliant la basilique et la crypte.. An Allegory of Wisdom.


Katz, Robert (1955). The Skills of an Effective Administrator, Harvard Business Review, January-February.

Peak, Martha (1992). Group Editor, AMA Magazines,Management Review, October.

Prochnow, Herbert (1986)The Public Speaker’s Treasure Chest, HarperCollins.

Tosi, Henry and Carroll,Stephen (1976).Management, John Wiley & Sons.

Robbins, S. & Hunsaker, Phillip L. (2008).Training In Interpersonal Skills (5th Edition), Prentice-Hall.

Whetten, David & Cameron, Kim (2010).Developing Management Skills, 8th Edition. Prentice-Hall.


Abbott, Jacob (1876). Alexander The Great.Harper and Brothers, University of Michigan Library, page 1 and 7. Available on Project Guttenberg. Blank, Steve & Dorf, Bob (2012).How to Road-Test Your Business Model,Inc. Magazine, May 12.

Benz, Kara. (2016). How To Write Your To Do Lists,, October 31.

Campbell, Joseph (2008).The Hero of a Thousand Faces, Third Edition.New World Library.

Creasy, Edward (1994).Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: From Marathon to Waterloo. Da Capo Press.

Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. (1989).Business Failure Record(1989). New York: page 19.

Economic (n. d.).Who Predicted the Financial Crisis.

Eikenberry, Kevin (2012).A No Excuses Leadership Learning Strategy.Leadership and Learning Blog, February 27.

Hart, Eloise (n.d.)The Delphic Oracle. The Theosophical Society.

Hay, Timothy (2012). Google Ventures Has Big Plans for Start-up University.Wall Street Journal Blog, February 12, 2012.

Johannsen, Murray (2016). Five Must Learn Skill Development Models. Legacee.

Johannsen, Murray (2015). The Sad State of Skill Building Today: Six Reasons Skill Development Doesn’t Happen. Legacee

Katz, (1955). The Skills of an Effective  Administrator. Harvard Business Review.

Reninger, Elizabeth (2012).The Yin-Yang Symbol.

Ross, Phillip (2006)The Expert Mind.Scientific American.August, Page 64 to 71. Stets, Jan and Burke, Peter (1999). In Edgar F. Borgatta and Rhonda J. V. Montgomery (Eds.),Encyclopedia of Sociology, Revised Edition. New York: Macmillan. Pp. 997-1005

Tabak, Steve, (2012).Seven Things that Make Great Entrepreneurs ThinkInc., Dec. 12.

Wikipedia (n. d.) Subject: Androgyny

Wikipedia (n. d.). Subject: Dunning-Kruger Effect   

Leadership Skill Development