Let’s face it: the business world can be ruthless. In such a competitive global atmosphere, it is often challenging – not to mention incredibly frustrating – to figure out how to get ahead. You may possess incredible technical gifts and insights into the inner workings of your industry and still find yourself falling short of your career goals.
Unfortunately, all the industry knowledge and quantifiable achievements in the world will not necessarily get – and, more importantly, keep – you a spot at the top of the corporate ladder. You’ve probably spent considerable time and energy trying to figure out how to climb to that highest rung, and if you’re a go-getter wondering how to fast-track your success, then you’ve likely considered pursuing an MBA (Master’s of Business Administration).
You may be wondering what an MBA can do for you. Well, wonder no more! We’ve compiled a list of the types of skills that are absolute prerequisites for lifelong success in business, no matter what specific field or role you’re in; you will hone every single one of these skills as an MBA candidate (and we’ll even tell you how!).
So without further ado, the nine most crucial skill sets for success in the business world are:
1. Critical Thinking
Some people believe that critical thinking skills can’t be taught. Forgive the pun, but those people need to think critically about this idea! It couldn’t be further from the truth. 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 defined as the “objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.” This can involve many things, but any discussion of critical thinking is likely to include concepts such as scepticism, identification of biases, rationality, analysis, and evidentiary support. Essentially, critical thinking is clear-minded, honest, sceptical, intelligent, and comprehensive thinking – no easy task even for the smartest professionals!
It is important for people in all sorts of careers to flex their mental muscles, but it is particularly important for MBA candidates and graduates. After all, these are the business leaders of today and tomorrow. As such, 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 to 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 the ability to keep a clear head under pressure and to think “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 and both big and small. In addition to using case studies, many MBA programs emphasize 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.
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 prioritize, the capacity to motivate others and help them to reach their full potential, and the savvy and gumption to make tough decisions.
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. Additionally, 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 familiarize themselves with the attributes of great leaders.
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, organization, time management, and conflict management, among others.
Different MBA programs utilize 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 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 on the subject of 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!
Another very important skill set for business professionals is associated with communication. It is impossible to be an effective leader, team member, business partner, or just about anything else without effectual communication skills. Business communications 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 also 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 to achieve your professional goals, not hinder you from doing so.
MBA programs prioritize 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.
No one wants to work with a professional who’s always cracking under pressure. Whether you’re an intern or a CEO, your team is relying on you to maintain composure and get things done (and so is your savings account!). Great MBA programs will help you to 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.
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, MBA programs, both traditional and online, 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.
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 who 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.
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 the ideal place for business professionals to build relationships with mentors who can show them the way in this regard.
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 to 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.
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.
So you’ve almost reached the end of the list. 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 in 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.
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 to the business world: they never stop moving forward and striving to improve.
While you may have seen a musical implying otherwise, you can’t simply “succeed in business without really trying” (it’s satire for a reason!). You will not luck into lasting success in the business world. 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 skill sets that set them apart from their peers and allow them to reach new heights of professional development.
Contact our Enrolment team on 1300 535 919 to discover how an MBA Global from James Cook University can help you adapt and thrive in evolving business environments.