Sometimes, in business and in life, it’s easy to get comfortable and stop growing. And while that might work for some people, it surely isn’t the ideal. Especially for individuals who actively want to contribute to corporate success. In fact, it might be said that the best leaders in business are those constantly expanding their knowledge and abilities. But what’s so important about learning new skills? Should an accountant actually keep up with team-building practices when they so often work by themselves? Does it matter whether a warehouse employee can articulate different motivational styles? You probably already know the answer to these questions — yes. Knowing and growing in top business skills is an important pursuit for people at all levels of an organization. Because understanding whether a business is functioning well requires knowing how the parts fit and work together.
Accountants who understand team-building best practices know how to work as part of a group when needed. And warehouse workers familiar with motivational theories position themselves to better understand the needs of those around them. So, whether you’re looking to move up in your career or be better at what you’re already doing, here are the top business skills you should invest in.
15 of the Top Business Skills You Should Be Working On
The importance of negotiation in business dealings is evident from the top of the organization to the bottom. And it’s useful both internally and externally. Like most of the top business skills on this list, it’s something every individual can benefit from knowing how to do well. Because whether you’re asking for a raise or navigating a massive venture with another company, negotiation is indispensable.
Technically speaking, the act of negotiating is simply the process of conversing and trying to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. Or, in other words, trying to get two parties to compromise. At the executive level, if a business leader goes into an important meeting without strong negotiation skills, the results could be disastrous. The two parties could fail to reach an agreement. Or perhaps worse, the weaker negotiator could end up compromising too much. And in the long-run, this can lead to strained relations and a failed partnership. So, it’s important for negotiators to make sure they aren’t being unfairly taken advantage of. But at the same time, they must recognize the importance of compromise and be willing to give.
Of course, the ability to negotiate is important outside of business as well. So, those who choose to invest in this skill put their stock in an ability that can serve them well. Fundamentally, living as part of a healthy society is always going to require compromise and the ability to navigate difficult situations.
You might be wondering how leadership could fall into a list of skills people aren’t aware they need. After all, it’s pretty apparent that leaders are essential for society and business — in many situations. But the idea here is a little more nuanced. The issue isn’t so much that people fail to understand leadership is necessary. It’s that too many leaders fail to recognize they need to continually pour into their capabilities.
It’s easy to get to the “top of the food chain”, as it were, and then rest on your laurels. But in all reality, that’s a mockery to the practice of leadership. Good managers are those who constantly strive to grow and better themselves. And particularly when it comes to issues of leadership, individuals must know how to be good followers. After all, it’s difficult to have realistic expectations of those you’re leading when you’ve never been led yourself.
For this, and many more reasons, leadership is one of the top business skills individuals should be investing in. Because there are plenty of ways to be a bad leader. And without focused attention, it’s easy to lapse into carelessness and even unethical behavior. Perhaps a trite maxim could best sum up the idea here. Leaders aren’t born, they’re made — and that requires careful and intentional training.
Like most of the skills and abilities on this list, critical thinking is imperative both professionally and personally. Problems and puzzles are commonplace in business and in everyday life. And as most people probably know, not every roadblock has a simple answer. In fact, many of the issues we face in our careers are extremely complex and can have a massive negative impact if handled poorly. That’s why having the ability to take a step back and think through issues calmly and rationally is paramount.
Admittedly, critical thinking should seem like a commonplace pursuit. But the fact is most individuals don’t analyze issues objectively. Confirmation bias and overt, emotionally-charged rhetoric are often the basis of decision making. So, it makes sense that important information can be overlooked or completely ignored. The first step toward critical thinking is to become aware of implicit biases. That is, to know what preconceptions you hold and how they affect your ability to think through an issue. Realistically, no person can ever make a wholly objective decision. But it’s entirely possible to recognize where your sympathies align and do your best to take a neutral approach to complicated topics.
This skill might actually be able to be subsumed under critical thinking. But because of how important it can be, we decided to list it on its own. Data analysis is exactly what it sounds like — inspecting data to discover useful information. And as part of the critical thinking process, it is essential. Not every situation presents data to interpret when making a decision. But for those which do, critical thinking cannot and should not happen apart from this important skill. Maybe an example better demonstrates this point.
If your company decided to cut down on available products, and you were responsible for choosing which ones, how would you decide? Would you throw all the products in a hat, pull out three and choose those? Hopefully not. It’s worth wagering that you would look at how well each individual product sold, then come to a data-driven conclusion. After all, you wouldn’t want to take your best-selling product and discontinue it. At its heart, this is data analysis. And like most aspects of critical thinking, it can range from simple to extremely complex. But because of how important it is to virtually all aspects of corporate health, data analysis is one of the top business skills you should be investing in.
Not everyone can be an accountant or financial expert — that’s for sure. After all, businesses are like bodies. If you have all hands and no feet, you’ll never get anywhere. But it’s still helpful for individuals at every level to understand the basic principles of finance. The ability to prepare a budget or wisely invest resources isn’t exclusive to business. We all do this on a regular basis — some admittedly better than others. And that’s the whole point. Some individuals, business leaders included, have no concept of healthy financial practices, and this can end up wrecking a company. Or, in a far worse scenario, it can implode someone’s personal life. Money might not bring happiness, but knowing how to be wise with it surely helps.
Very few if any of the top business skills in this list are singularly beneficial. They all work together to form a coherent and cohesive picture of effective business practices. And financial literacy is no exception. Just like data analysis, it goes hand-in-hand with skills like critical thinking. Because it’s difficult to think effectively if you have no framework for analyzing financial information. So, while financial literacy is a skill people would benefit from learning on its own, it can’t always be separated from other important abilities.
Let’s get this out of the way — nowhere near enough can be said about the importance of organization skills. This ability impacts everything from your own personal workspace and time management to the overall structure of a company. Knowing how to organize things efficiently and effectively is one of the most basic requirements for doing business well. Of course, organization might look different from one person to the next. So, there’s no official schema an individual must follow. But the basic principle is to understand how you best organize tasks, space, time, and possessions and stick to it.
A cluttered desk can seem disorganized, but the person behind it might know where every object is. A company structure can appear confusing from outside but perfectly clear for employees. The point is, when it comes to organization, the objective isn’t to find a hard and fast rule. You shouldn’t impose your own organization style on others when it isn’t necessary. Instead, determine what works best on personal and corporate levels, then help others where you can. Because if individual workers aren’t functioning in concert, the result is often a confused mess.
Even at the highest levels of an organization, trainability is an essential skill to strive for. In part, it speaks to the humility of the individual, to recognize they still have things to learn. And perhaps more importantly, it means admitting someone else knows more than they do — at least about something. Moreover, trainability is intrinsically others-empowering. It means placing oneself in a subservient position in order to become wiser. And in that regard, it has just as much impact on other people as it does for self. It simultaneously humbles the learner and builds up the teacher, who might actually be lower in title or rank.
Speaking about the practical importance of trainability, a humble attitude often avoids disaster. No single individual, regardless of their position on the corporate ladder, can see all outcomes. That’s why it’s helpful to have management and executive teams. Often, one person will catch what another does not. So, being open to listening to and truly assessing the input of others is fundamentally necessary. Indeed, what represents trainability more than the willingness to listen to and learn from others at the sake of pride?
The same principles used to create effective teams in a workplace can be employed elsewhere to facilitate healthy interpersonal dynamics. Even when it comes to family, there are “projects” that have to get done, goals to meet. And knowing how to put the right people in the right places is one step toward achieving objectives. But team-building is about more than just getting the right people in the right places. It’s about helping the members of a unit work well together, trust one another and learn to depend on each other. So, at the heart of team-building is the ability to inspire mutual respect between individuals — a task that isn’t always easy.
Because teamwork is important to virtually any corporate body, this skill cannot be overlooked. And even apart from team leaders, individual members should become familiar with the basic principles. Because it’s far easier for a body to function well when its parts understand how their roles are supported by and supporting others.
Sales and Marketing
Not every skill a businessperson can learn is necessarily one they’ll need to employ in any professional capacity. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth investing in. Two of those particular abilities are sales and marketing. And while it might be better to say that individuals should understand sales and marketing, the point is basically the same. This is just one instance of how cross-departmental knowledge can help influence and inform how other tasks are completed. Obviously, an individual in Human Resources, for instance, might never touch aspects of sales or marketing departments. However, knowing how these tasks function can help inform their decisions when it comes to hiring employees and conducting performance evaluations. Of course, this is just an example, and may not actually apply for every organizational structure. But the point is larger than just sales and marketing.
In fact, members of an organization can take this principle and apply it to any department other than their own. Executives can benefit from understanding the day-to-day functions of warehouse workers. Marketers benefit from knowing the overall strategy of a company developed by leaders. It isn’t to say that every individual in an organization needs to be up-to-speed on every facet of the business plan. But it does help individuals perform tasks well if they know how they fit with the overall objectives.
When it comes to customer service, there’s a certain etiquette expected of professionals. Representatives should be patient, helpful and kind when dealing with even the rudest or most abrasive customers. Because anything less than that is a poor reflection on the company as a whole and can end up costing the organization dearly. This isn’t to say that customer service representatives should grin and bear with verbally abusive individuals. But more a point that people in all areas of a company can stand to learn from the ways customer success reps conduct themselves, even in terrible circumstances.
Calm collectedness in the face of adversity is a level of self-control most people can only hope to strive for. Because it isn’t within human nature to withstand harsh words or insults without responding in kind. However, the way an individual handles a tense situation can speak volumes. If they respond with anger, it will likely produce a negative outcome. But responding to fury with grace and understanding can create a lifelong advocate out of someone who was initially incensed. And because basic principles of customer service can help in internal and external communication, it’s a vital business skills to invest in.
True — planning is a bit of a tricky subject. In reality, there are barriers to successfully executing a plan that few people could actually have seen coming. This type of scenario happens all the time. Someone crafts a great roadmap, sets out on the trail and suddenly their entire trajectory is scrambled by unforeseen events. But that also doesn’t mean plans are pointless. Far from it, actually. Because the greatest planners know how to account for setbacks, delays and changes. A plan that reads, “If everything happens the way we think, we will be able to get to this goal”, isn’t a good one. And this doesn’t begin to touch on the subject of actual execution. Because even the greatest plan is nothing more than a good idea until carried out.
So, we should reiterate. Planning is tricky. But it’s absolutely worth doing. In fact, life cannot proceed with any amount of stability unless you plan ahead. Hoping to go get dinner at a specific restaurant with some friends? That’s a plan. Do you know where you want to be in your career in five years? Also a plan. And to be sure, some plans are clearly better than others. Some are more detailed and well thought-out. But that doesn’t mean planning hasn’t taken place, even if they’re simple. Learning to craft a roadmap from where you are to where you want to be is one of the most essential business skills every professional should have in their tool belt.
It’s already been noted several times that the majority of the business skills on this list are equally applicable for CEOs as fresh, new hires. However, when it comes to delegation, at least in business, it’s much more geared toward managers and leaders. At it’s core, delegation involves organization skills mixed with a bit of leadership and planning. That is to say, it depends on many of the other skills we’ve already talked about. Delegation means having the ability to assign out different tasks or roles to individuals in a team so work can happen efficiently. It’s about being able to see which members of a team are best suited to completing certain parts of a plan. But perhaps even more importantly, it’s about relinquishing a bit of control over a project.
Too many managers are, in fact, micromanagers. Instead of simply overseeing a team of capable members, they feel they have to control every aspect. So, they dictate the way things should happen at the smallest levels all along the way. Managing this way can breed resentment or feelings of mistrust between workers and their leaders. And realistically, it’s the exact opposite of successful delegation. To hand out a task to a capable employee means trusting that person can handle it well. So, in a sense, delegation requires stepping out of one’s comfort zone sometimes. But the healthy culture it can lead to is worth the risk whenever it’s handled correctly.
No matter what some people may think or say, humans aren’t made to exist in isolation. We are an inherently communal species, and we thrive when we do things together. Business is hardly an exception to that norm. Because when it comes to finding the best career opportunities and support systems, a strong network is perhaps the most beneficial factor. It’s much easier to find a job that suits your needs and abilities when there are trustworthy people who vouch for you. And it’s apparent who to turn to for help when you’re already surrounded by like-minded individuals who have experienced similar circumstances. In that sense, building a network is something every person should be doing. And not solely for personal benefit. Because, as many probably know well, it often feels better to help than be helped. Networks imply reciprocity. If you’ve been helped, make sure you help someone else when opportunity arises.
Ultimately, having a network is about having a community. In a sense, it means having a place you belong and feel welcomed. And in some cases, that can be extremely informal. Other times, the relationships may stick to strict professionalism. But either way, this sort of community can be one of the most worthwhile investments both for and apart from career aspirations.
Indecisiveness is often lightly teased across social media channels. You might be familiar with memes or images depicting a spinning wheel to decide where a couple should eat. Or perhaps you’ve seen restaurants called, “I Don’t Know”. Obviously, they’re referencing the question, “Where do you want to eat?”. But while inability to make a strong decision can comes across as humorous, it’s actually quite damaging in some situations. Decision-making is vital enough to list it as one of the most important business skills you can pursue. Because if leaders in an organization are paralyzed when it comes to making strategic choices, the company will never get anywhere. Sometimes, even though it might not feel right, risk is a necessary component of business. And when executives find themselves trapped between safe norms and risk-inducing growth opportunities, they falter.
Of course, the ability to make a decision doesn’t require rashness. It doesn’t mean leaders should approach a situation and suddenly throw caution to the wind. Because, remember, one of the other important business skills is the ability to use data to inform the decision making process. So, especially when risk is involved, leaders must be alert and conscious of their choices. Ultimately, there are two extremes. On one side stands timid and unyielding caution, where no risk is ever taken. And on the opposite side, tactless and dangerous recklessness. The idea, then, is to find the golden mean between the two poles.
Finally, the last of our proposed business skills is motivation. This might be at the team or individual level, depending on the situation. But for any leader, no matter the organization or team size, it’s paramount to understand the driving forces that motivate employees. And this has implications both for positive and negative situations. Is there an employee who has shown a massive amount of initiative, who continually exceeds expectations? Chances are, their needs have been and are being fulfilled. Alternatively, is there a “problem” employee who just can’t seem to get in line with the plan? It might be because their needs aren’t being fulfilled. And sometimes, this can be resolved with a simple shift in the way leaders relate to their teams.
But even moving beyond the good/bad worker dichotomy, understanding motivation is helpful for personal reasons. Knowing what kinds of situations sap your energy or your drive can help you avoid burnout. And knowing what kinds of rewards keep you going can help you stay focused and determined. At the end of the day, every individual will suffer lack of motivation at some point. But knowing how to reestablish that inspiration is a basic yet indispensable skill for managers and other leaders.
Enhance Your Business Skills with VTR Learning
If you’ve read this far in the article, then you know a lot of content was covered. And chances are, you’re feeling pretty overwhelmed. Because, admittedly, we’ve talked about far too many skills to focus on all of them at the same time. Even if businesspeople should take the time to focus on each of the abilities in this list, it can’t happen all at once. And if it did, the results would probably be pretty subpar. So, it’s important to decide on a few at a time and focus on those first. Then, after you’ve had the opportunity to pour into those to a satisfactory point, take on a few more. One step at a time definitely applies here, and VTR Learning can help you take that first step. We offer dozens of different courses to help you enhance and maintain your existing skill set while learning new abilities as well. So, if you’re hoping to become better at what you do or simply expand your horizons, look no further. We’re here to help!