5 Essential Skills to Master in Business (and Life)

There are many skills taught to us by a patient parent at an early age. One such is tying shoelaces. This is a skill that takes some dexterity. It can be trying for small fingers not accustomed yet to do anything more challenging than picking up a Cheerio or fingering a nose. But we learn it and master it (yes, at a young age I became rather quick with the bunny ears, looping them together as I raced to get my sneakers on and tied for the mad dash to the school bus.)

The next skill challenge for me was penmanship. For those that have received a hand written note from me, trying to decipher my hieroglyphics, it is clear I never matriculated beyond “apprenticeship” status. Thankfully in today’s digital world, poor handwriting has not held me back.

So what are the skills you need to excel at today to be successful in business (and life)? Here are 5 that make the list:

#1 The Written Word-

Since I mentioned penmanship, let’s stick with writing. I am not talking about the physical aspect (which, again I fail miserably at), but the skill at transferring a thought to the page. And in today’s world we are in danger of losing the art of well-written correspondence. With a world filled with LOL, TTYL and now emojis, which dispense pretty much of any writing, thoughtful written words will go the way of the heart wrenching homesick letter from a Civil War Union solider.

Bringing forth from your mind a stream of ideas, transferring that to words clearly articulating to the reader your desired intention, is a powerful form of communication. Whether it’s a business email communicating a course of action, or a personal note conveying feelings and emotions, it takes skill to transfer thoughts to written words.

With a large percent of all business communication being done by email, you have to be able to express yourself clearly. I am often asked to help review a friend’s thank you note to a perspective employer or a college admissions essay, because, I’m told “you’re so good at.” Let me share a secret….I work at it. I constantly strive to be a better writer. When I am engaged by a well-written piece, I admire it and analyze why it captivated me. Whether it is the words or sentence structure, I am inspired by its power.

You can do it….it’s just like tying your shoes; learn it, practice it and do it….over and over and over.

#2 Hone Your Math Skills

Those that know me and have watched me add up my golf score after a round, are laughing at me right now. I’ll have either shot an 85, 103 or 96. The results will vary depending on how many times I have mentally calculated the score versus taking off my shoes and socks to help with the counting. I am just not good with math and I do believe having solid math skills can help in business (and life…well on the golf course at least).

I am convinced amongst the many (yes I know, many) reasons I will never be a CEO or run a company is, I just suck at math. In most businesses it is an important skill set. I struggle to get through a P&L statement and admire those who can tackle an excel sheet with pivot tables and rows and columns of numbers. I’ll get there, but I have to take my time with it.

Like any skill, it takes time to polish, but with practice, you can shine (in my case I’d be happy with light glaze).

#3 Building a team

This skill can actually make up for your deficiencies…

It takes a keen eye to recognize talent. And it takes honest internal reflection to pinpoint areas where you do not distinguish yourself. The skill is building a team around your strengths and weaknesses. Strive to not only recruit the best and brightest, but also surround yourself with those that compliment your skills or cover your shortfalls.

A skillful manager appreciates the disparate members of a team. That manager can direct projects to those most able to tackle them. And the team wins when led by a manager who perceives what’s needed to succeed.

Is this a skill that can be learned? That is hard to determine. But if you are honest about your skill set and can temper your ego, then I would say that’s a skill. Not many people can be that honest with themselves. By not recognizing or taking the time to reflect, the skill of building the best team can be elusive.

No matter what team I am on or building, I quickly ascertain whom I can toss the math problems to!

#4 So, this guy walks into a bar….

According to a Reuter’s article, the world’s oldest joke dates back to 1900 BC (not worth repeating, something about the Sumerian’s and flatulence). In the intervening years, many have honed that into a skill, some for lots of money. While you may not be in it for the riches, being able to tell a good joke is a useful skill.

You can start a business meeting with one (Human Resources spoiler alert….please keep it SFW, safe for work) or kick start a bland dinner date.

To be proficient at joke telling remember one word….timing. It’s ALL in the timing. You can tap your toe to verbal rhythms of a Marx Brothers routine. Listen to an early recording of Woody Allen’s stand-up act. All the affected stutters, “umm”s and throat-clearings were used to perfect the timing of the punch line. And today’s stars of stand-up, such as Sarah Silverman and Louis C.K. both possess the precision of a Swiss timepiece when delivering their material.

#5 Shout it, Shout it, and Shout it loud…

Study after study reveal public speaking as a person’s number one fear, ahead of death. Jerry Seinfeld popularized this notion when he stated that most people at a funeral would prefer to be in the coffin than to be giving the eulogy.

In my line of work (media sales), I guess some would consider it an occupational hazard. But oral communication is what I do often and I treat it as a skill that must be applied and exercised.

Depending on your career, there may be times where you have to give a presentation. Here are some keys to a solid performance:

  •  Know your material thoroughly. Know it better than your audience. Confidence will help you even if you stumble.
  • Practice the transitions from slide to slide. I find tying one point to the next, even tangentially, makes for a smooth, fluid presentation style.
  • Address the audience. Stand in front. If presenting with a screen behind you, look at the material in front of you. Only occasionally refer to the screen to emphasize a point.
  • Practice, practice practice……

There is no need to imagine your audience naked. Apply these steps and you will have mastered a skill many fear.

And when called upon to make a toast, avoid the poem (please, you are not 12 years old), and deliver a well thought out speech with aplomb.

Bonus #6….For the guys

Learn to tie a bow tie. First, a tux is simply not a tux without a bow tie. And that bow tie should be hand tied. It should have just enough of an imperfection that says to the world, “I posses a certain élan and individualism.” The tux, the hand tied bow tie and the confidence, truly make the man.

So, don’t trip over your laces, simply focus on all or any of these skills and apply them to your daily routines.kid-tying-shoelace_2474539a

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