10 skills you need to succeed in business

23rd August 2021
A group of business professionals sit around a conference table.
A group of business professionals sit around a conference table.
A group of business professionals sit around a conference table.

Today’s businesses face a competitive global atmosphere. As a result, it can be challenging to figure out how to get ahead. Business success requires expertise in fundamental skills – skills you will hone as an MBA candidate. These 10 skills will stay with you no matter what career path you choose and give you the confidence and drive to succeed in an increasingly competitive landscape.

1. Critical thinking

Imparting critical thinking skills is a key aspect of all intellectually rigorous academic programs – and it is especially central to the mission of MBA programs.

Critical thinking is the analysis of an issue or problem in order to form a conclusion or solution. This can involve many things, but any critical thinking discussion is likely to include concepts such as scepticism, identification of biases, rationality, analysis, and evidentiary support. Essentially, critical thinking is clear-minded, honest, intelligent, and comprehensive thinking – no simple task even for the smartest professionals. An MBA will really teach you to hone in on those salient points that make a difference.

People in all sorts of careers need to flex their mental muscles, but it is vital for MBA candidates and graduates. After all, these are the business leaders of today and tomorrow. Most courses in MBA programs incorporate methods designed to foster candidates’ critical thinking abilities. For instance, some MBA professors and instructors may employ the Socratic method, a teaching method featuring extensive dialoguing and reflection. Many MBA courses also involve extensive use of case studies, which allow candidates to practice thinking through challenging real-world scenarios.

The more time you spend practising your critical thinking skills as an MBA candidate, the better prepared you will be to accurately and efficiently assess and handle everything a demanding career in the business world entails. With great critical thinking skills, you can attack everything that comes your way head-on.

2. Problem-solving

Problem-solving skills are also essential for success in the business world. Problem-solving is intimately related to critical thinking; getting accustomed to thinking critically about problems will help you solve those that may rear their ugly heads. Other skills that aid in problem-solving include (but are, of course, not limited to) research and decision-making. Successful problem-solving also requires keeping a clear head under pressure and thinking “outside the box”.

MBA candidates are given ample opportunity to improve their problem-solving skills through their coursework and other related activities. Of course, some of these opportunities involve the use of the aforementioned case studies. The “case approach” is favoured by many MBA programs because it allows candidates to practice solving problems of all kinds, both big and small. In addition to using case studies, many MBA programs emphasise the importance of data-driven solutions, teaching students how to use quantitative information to more effectively solve problems.

MBA programs are often also very concerned with helping their candidates to centre creativity and innovation in their problem-solving efforts. In today’s complex world, it is not enough to think of one solution to any given issue; it is imperative that you can conceive of many options – and options that transcend the obvious. There will always be many changing variables, so in order to stay at the top of your game, you will need to be prepared for all possibilities.

3. Leadership

Of course, leadership skills are among those most central to the MBA experience. Prominent MBA degree holders are known to possess strong leadership qualities, like confidence, commitment, passion, and charisma. MBA degree holders also have leadership skills, including the ability to prioritise, the capacity to motivate others and help them reach their full potential, and the savvy and gumption to make tough decisions. They also have insight into their behaviour and can demonstrate humility when things do not go to plan.

MBA programs cultivate leadership skills in a variety of ways. Many MBA programs offer courses and programs specifically focused on helping their students to become effective leaders. Some also feature group work and modelling, which can allow students to practice acting in a leadership capacity. Many high-quality MBA programs – both traditional and online – are tapping established business leaders to teach courses and serve as mentors. This allows MBA candidates to truly familiarise themselves with the attributes of great leaders. It also helps them pick up practical business skills and learning from experts that you won't find in a standard textbook.    

4. Teamwork

You can’t be a leader without people to lead, so your leadership skills won’t be too effective if not paired with strong teamwork skills. Working as a member of a team – and being a “team player” – is essential to business success. Some skills associated with effective teamwork include active listening and providing feedback, organisation, time management, communication skills for business professionals, and conflict management.

Different MBA programs utilise different strategies to help their students develop teamwork skills. Some MBA programs sort their students into teams for various courses, initiatives, and projects to foster these business acumen skills. Members of these teams will often develop schedules for face-to-face meetings and delegate tasks and responsibilities amongst themselves. Other MBA programs, including online programs, may have students work in teams via video calling or other virtual methods. They may also offer courses specifically about how to work effectively as a member (and/or leader) of a team.

As cheesy as it may sound, it’s a cliché for a reason: Teamwork really does make the dream work!

5. Communication

Another essential skill set for business professionals is communication. It is impossible to be an effective leader, team member, business partner, or just about anything else without effective communication skills. Communication skills for business professionals can take many forms: memos, emails, pitches, formal speeches, advertisements and copywriting, and so many more. 

In today’s high-tech business world, it is difficult for many professionals to determine how to switch between different communication styles and methods effectively, appropriately, and professionally. It is of the utmost importance to maintain an online presence that will help you achieve your professional goals, not hinder you from doing so. Understanding the difference between salient professional social media posts and meaningless tweets, for example, is to see how an online presence is vital for networking and not a hindrance. 

MBA programs prioritise endowing their students with the tools they need to communicate successfully in their professional lives. Virtually every MBA candidate will take at least one Business Communication course. These courses may cover anything from how best to present oneself at a job interview to the most effective formatting of business proposals. MBA candidates finish these courses far better prepared for every area of their professional lives than when they started them.

6. Resilience

No one wants to work with a professional who’s always cracking under pressure. Recent events with the global pandemic are a prime example of a situation where business leaders have had to keep their cool and change direction with little notice, all while leading a team. Whether you’re an intern or a CEO, your team is relying on you to maintain composure and get things done. Great MBA programs will help you prepare yourself for challenging situations so that you can bounce back from unexpected obstacles and stumble stronger than ever and keep moving forward. This concept is known to many as resilience and is one of the most important business acumen skills you'll acquire.

The world’s most amazing business leaders tend to have what some call a “growth mindset,” which is the idea that every failure or challenge is an opportunity to grow. Resilience also depends upon a person’s ability to stay positive. You don’t always need to have a smile on your face, but it is counterproductive to wallow when things don’t go as you had intended.

Fortunately, MBA programs can and do help their students to become more resilient in their professional lives. For instance, both traditional and online MBA programs, offer students ample opportunity to communicate one-on-one with professors, instructors, academic/career counsellors, and/or mentors to work through challenges and learn how they can achieve better results in the future. You'll also build a network of colleagues that you can reach out to after the program has finished.

7. Flexibility

Flexibility – a skill set that is very closely tied to resilience – is also incredibly important for successful business professionals and leaders. Someone who is rigid and cannot be effective if everything is not done exactly as they would prefer is not someone who can consistently achieve great results over time in our fast-paced, ever-changing world. The business sphere needs leaders who can “go with the flow” while still remaining in control. Examples include having to implement a cash-free payment system or increase online sales rapidly to meet changing situations. Business leaders recognise the benefits of being flexible and are able to adapt to a situation in a seamless way with little disruption. In fact, flexibility is a part of their company culture as they accustom teams to change.

The ease of adaptability is different for everyone and depends on many factors, including personality type and personal circumstances. However, career success in the highly competitive world of business often depends on this, so it certainly behoves aspiring business leaders to work on their flexibility skills. As a result, MBA programs must help candidates become more flexible. MBA programs are ideal for business professionals to build relationships with mentors who can show them the way and learn as they flex to stay ahead.

8. Cultural competence

Adapting to new environments, challenges, and types of professional interactions often also requires well-cultivated cultural competence skills, meaning the tools that help people work effectively with and for those from different cultural backgrounds. The term is also often expanded to include those of different ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, genders and gender presentations, physical and cognitive abilities, and more. Cultural competence requires education about various norms across cultures and other ways of being, as well as about professional standards of behaviour and challenging previously held perceptions and misconceptions. A strong business leader will take lessons from cultural competence and consider how they relate to inequity of access. They are masters at transforming a business to be more culturally inclusive.

The world of business is becoming more diverse in many respects, so it is more important than ever for MBA programs to thoroughly prepare their students with cultural competence skills – and MBA programs are stepping up to the challenge. A fast-growing number of MBA programs are offering and/or required courses that cover culturally specific business practices and more. Having a global perspective is also a major aspect of many MBA-level courses, as well as various other core courses.

9. Financial skills

Managing financial decisions is vital for business leaders. An MBA student needs to understand what drives the markets today as well as the needs of a company. Strong business leaders know and are able to articulate the reasons behind a difficult financial decision. Sometimes decisions are unpopular ones, but the skills learned on an MBA program combined with resilience and critical thinking enable leaders to make sound decisions backed up by good financial plans.

An MBA program equips candidates with financial skills and tools to manage commercially. These include business acumen skills, financial forecasting, accounting, analytical skills, and more. Candidates are supported to be comfortable with risk in order to make a change to a business, for example. Risk-taking is commonplace with entrepreneurs as they experiment with new things. An MBA program will enable candidates to balance financial stability with risk-taking, so business progresses in a managed environment.

10. Self-awareness

You’ve learned about many of the most important skill sets for professional success – but it’s impossible to make good use of them without a solid dose of self-awareness. You may think you’ve mastered all the skill sets associated with business leadership, but without self-awareness, you’ll never know for sure!

This concept is growing in popularity among prominent business leaders and major companies, so MBA programs strive to produce graduates with good self-awareness. MBA students must learn about their strengths and weaknesses, most effective work styles and environments commonly made mistakes and more. They must also learn how to continuously check in with themselves to see when things aren’t going as they should, both professionally and personally, and become accustomed to accepting and gaining insight from constructive criticism and performance reviews. These skills and abilities set a successful MBA graduate apart from the others in a positive way.

Many MBA programs feature courses that compel candidates to look inward and discover how they work best – and what skill sets they need to improve upon. MBA advisors and mentors can also be invaluable in helping MBA candidates to develop valuable self-awareness skills.

Self-aware MBA graduates are always learning and growing, even many years after earning their degrees. That’s why they are so valuable to their companies and the business world: They never stop moving forward and striving to improve.

Hone your business skills with JCU Online

The business world has its ups and downs, and you will not always be successful. Fortunately, many business professionals have found that an MBA education enables them to work smarter, not harder. These satisfied graduates hold not only a valuable degree but also many well-honed skills that set them apart from their peers and allow them to reach new heights of professional development.  

The JCU Online MBA Global degree provides an environment that helps shape business professionals into business leaders. Learn more about this course by contacting our Enrolment team on 1300 535 919.

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