If you’re headed to school – or just finishing up a program – to get your Master in Business Administration (MBA), then chances are good there’s already a LOT on your plate. But if you want to make it in the C-Suite, you’ve got to do more than simply master vocabulary, getting pass grades in your classes and impress a few professors.
You need to build skills. Better than that: you need superpowers. Abilities that enable you to be a great coworker and employee, but also to manage others with aplomb in order to ensure that your subordinates appreciate and respect you. Moreover, you’ll need skills that help you think outside the box, spot business opportunities before you competitors can, and cultivate the right mindset so you’re always thinking like a leader.
Below we will explore a range of skills. Some of these relate to how you interact with people, while others have to do with your interaction with technology, business information, risk or the world. In every case, we’ll take a close look at your responsibility and how you can increase the mastery of that skill to ensure your success in the job hunt and in your (hopefully long and happy) career afterward.
#1 Social Responsibility
Social responsibility is a broad umbrella term that captures environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, fair wages and more. It is by now generally accepted that businesses which prize social responsibility can see greater profits, so having your finger on the pulse of this arena is a crucial skill.
Social responsibility is more than simply giving back; it means actively ensuring that your business isn’t doing harm, is offsetting carbon emissions, is treating and paying workers well, is following all environmental regulations (and ideally exceeding them), and so on. If you can offer your business expertise in this area – essentially acting as a social responsibility barometer and spotting new opportunities for improvement – they will love you for it.
#2 “People” Skills
This one is in quotes because it’s so difficult to define. At the same time, this skill is so crucial that it belongs right near the top of this list. “People” skills, also called interpersonal skills, essentially relate to your ability to work well with others. This is not the same as mere communication – which we will discuss in detail below. Rather, it refers to how well you can respect the needs and emotions of the people around you.
Examples include: Can you understand where a subordinate is coming from with a work complaint, and deal with it fairly? Can you pass on a mandate from above or implement new rules without ruffling feathers? Do you pull teams together, or allow them to fracture? Your job should be to act as a glue in any group of people, while simultaneously addressing everyone’s needs. A tough order, but with practice, you can do it.
#3 Financial Fluency
It almost goes without saying that an MBA grad should have a good grasp of finances. Yet surprisingly, some do not, preferring instead to focus instead on other skills. Sure, you’re not earning a Master of Finance, but if you can’t clearly see the bottom-line implications for a range of business decisions, you won’t be nearly as useful to your company as you would otherwise be.
#4 Digital Literacy
The digital age isn’t just a fun side note anymore. No one needs to tell you that today, technological ability is the lifeblood of a company, and very, very few can function without it. If you can prove to your company that you have this skill, you’ll be valuable indeed. Applications include understanding how technology impacts the bottom line, being able to use social media, understanding content management systems or complicated business workflows, having the skills to train people in their use, and more.
#5 Entrepreneurial Spirit
This might sound like a fluffy and ill-defined skill, but that’s actually not the case. Thinking like an entrepreneur, and being willing to take risks like one, is a hugely beneficial skill for any business. No company ever got anywhere by consistently playing it safe and copying tried-and-true models. Sure, this may be a good way to ride things out once established, but it’s no way to grow. Especially if you’re working with a new or up-and-coming company, you need to be able to spot great ideas, decide whether or not they’re worth pursuing, and take on the risk associated with greenlighting an untested model or unvetted scheme.
#6 Expert Communication
Ah, communication. For such a crucial skill, many people in management roles are surprisingly bad at it. While many are tempted to dismiss this as “That’s just the way I talk; they can deal with it,” it behooves you not to think of communication this way. Instead, think of it as a tool to wield. If you can use it better than others can, you can get ahead, both within and outside your company.
Communication skills involve hearing the other person, being able to translate their words into their true needs (which is often different than what they’re saying), and responding accordingly in a language that they understand. A few sample situations in which excellent communication is necessary include when presenting to groups, when mediating disputes, when advocating for your own rights, when representing your company at conferences, trade shows or business deals, and more. Your goal is to help your business grow and thrive, and as it does so, and good communication can get you there.
#7 Strategic Thinking
In this age of buzzwords, strategic thinking is one of the buzziest. But strategic thinking is more than just “being smart” or “thinking quickly.” It means looking at a course of action, seeing its outcome clearly, thinking your way from A to a desired point B, and generally being able to play out a situation and make the right decisions.
This has multiple applications in your scope of work. For one thing, you’ll need to think strategically about a lot of moving parts – people, work processes, even machinery. For another, you need to be able to see each change or opportunity not just for what it means now, but for what it means down the road for the entire organization. And lastly, you’ll need to be able to think strategically when talking to potential business partners, new vendors, inventors, or whoever else, so you can quickly process their propositions and ideas and therefore make discussions much more productive in the moment.
#8 Marketing Abilities
The application of a marketing mindset to the business landscape should be fairly obvious. If you’re good at selling the products and services your company creates, your company will be successful. Ergo, you will be successful. So far, so good. But it goes deeper than that. A marketing acuity will help you craft products accordingly, tailor them more closely to customers’ needs and desires, so that when they come to market they almost sell themselves.
#9 Global Mindset
The era of well-defined countries each competing against one another with all their businesses tidily kept behind borders is long over. Many businesses are global in nature, with far-flung offices around the world. Many have employees sourced from a huge variety of nations, and rely on many languages for their proper functioning. Most make products that will be manufactured in a range of countries, sold in markets around the globe and marketed with an array of cultures in mind.
To succeed in such a world, you must be prepared to recognize the implications of global differences and respond accordingly. That means understanding that different cultures have different expectations and being able to research them effectively before a meeting or business trip. It means knowing which markets your products or services are aiming at, and taking cultural expectations into account. And it means being able to create business workflows and plans that have a “view from above” that accounts for your company’s entire sphere of influence, whether that means a single city block or the capitols of the world.
#10 Risk Awareness
And lastly, risk awareness. This most crucial of skills is not a “nice to have” for MBAs, but rather an absolute must. Every business decision carries risk: every hire, every new product or service, every change to routine or regulations. Even hiring someone presents a risk, because a very real chance exists that you may spend time and energy onboarding someone who will not stay to pay that effort back.
However, the main risks with which you must concern yourself are those that could affect the company’s bottom line, that could result in a lawsuit, regulatory offenses or potential vulnerability to weather, markets, political landscapes, terrorism, technological breaches and so on. There are also risks associated with failing to adequately protect proprietary information, competitors or simple changes in the market. As an MBA, you don’t have to be accountable to a business for every single one of its risks, but you must know what they are in order to do your part to protect against them.
In the end, these MBA superpowers will do more than earn you a great job. They’ll help ensure that you make a real difference at your company, and therefore that you’ll never lack for jobs in future. If you can focus on building these skills while still in school, so much the better. If you’ve already graduated and are currently looking for a position, or have landed one and are hoping to make yourself useful over the long haul, there’s no better place to start than here.