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Article: The 10 Top Skills for Success in Business or Career Related Resources

Article: The 10 Top Skills for Success in Business or Career

© 1999, C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.

After the basic educational, experiential and licensing qualifications to obtain any position or to start a business, there are additional qualities an employer finds desirable in an employee or business owner must find in him/herself. Business success depends more on several essential, learnable skills than upon any particular education or experience.

Of the many abilities contributing to excellent performance in business or career, the ten that seem most valued are:

1. Leadership
2. Organization (and time management)
3. Selling Skills
4. Information Acquisition and Management
5. Current Technologies
6. Persuasion and Negotiation
7. Judgment (making good decisions and choices)
8. Financial
9. Writing
10. Speaking

Here's a brief look at what each of the above includes and resources for learning more are available in the resources box below the article.

1. Leadership is the ability to get people to do what you want them to do. If you are a good leader, people will do what you've asked them to do, whether or not you are there to supervise. If you are a great leader, they will do what you've asked, strive to do it well, enjoy working for you and try to do more than you've asked, just to please you. If you are inspired leader, they will do what you ask, try to contribute as much more as you will allow, make sure that whatever they do is the highest quality they can give you, and consider their work not merely enjoyable, but rather a shared vision partnership with you. Leadership includes the skills of motivation, change facilitation, behavior modification and conflict management.

2. Organization is the ability to manage time, people and processes in such a way that everything is done in the best order, by the best qualified worker, in the most efficient time frame. A good organizer also insures that all materials involved in the process are available in the right place, at the right time and in sufficient quantity, without excessive reserves.

3. Selling skill is the ability to get people to buy your ideas, services or products. This skill is the only way you get money for whatever you do. No matter how poor a sales person you think yourself, if you have a job, you've managed to make at least one sale -- that of your services to an employer. I'm constantly amazed at the distorted views I hear of this very basic economic necessity. You'd almost think that sales was the province of the Devil. Yet, if you take the time to study the techniques of selling, you'll find them very similar to advice on how to get a date, how to get a promotion on the job, how to get a bank to give you a loan and how to get elected to office in your social club. Commerce does not happen without sales. I probably would have put this first if I'd been listing skills in order of importance. Selling skill is part of the skill category of Influence, which also encompasses Persuasion and Negotiation, which I've also listed among the ten top skills. It's so important that I recommend that you read one or more of the best books on sales before you do anything about any of the other skills I mention here. Start with Selling for Dummies by Tom Hopkins.

4. Information Acquisition and Management includes finding the best news, articles, books, tapes, videos, training and other written and multiple media sources that keep you current and "in the know" in your field of expertise, as well as closely related fields that impact yours. But moreover, having good "information skills" means having access to experts who can help you and having an extensive address book with a great contact network. That's because you need to know how to find out about stuff that you don't know. You also need to store all the information you acquire and be able to access and add to it easily. This is so important that most corporations have an entire department just for this task and have a Chief Information Officer (VP) to run it. For most people it is sufficient to be able to make and use databases, to keep a Filofax, Daytimer, DayRunner or whatever brand you prefer, to learn basic research skills and to be able to do quick, effective internet searches.

5. Current Technologies. I'm constantly amazed by the number of professionals, executives and managers who are still being dragged kicking and screaming all the way into the 21st century where technology is concerned. Here's the reality: you must know and use all the current technology relevant to business in general and to your field in particular. You will not get ahead without it. (If you are already CEO, never mind what I'm saying.) At a minimum, you must acquire basic computer user skills. Yes, that means that you need to know how to type (or keyboard, as many call it today). No, it is not merely a clerical or secretarial skill. [Although I am posting this article on my web site, I have found that any number of people who've read such articles have only found them by sitting beside someone else who was negotiating the Web for them or by having them printed out to read off-line. Therefore, I'm not assuming that all my readers already know and appreciate the need for technological literacy.] But, to continue my harangue, you cannot easily accomplish the other 9 skills on this list without being able to competently use both the technology of business in general and the technology of your business in particular. (For example, if you are a trainer, a speaker, or make any sorts of presentations, you need to know about and use projectors, transparencies, projected video, audio amplification systems, computer-assisted training programs and computer projected multimedia.)

6. Persuasion and Negotiation are the basic abilities to get others to do what you want or give you what you want. They are closely related to selling skills and to motivation. They are essential to leadership. Although you learned these skills as a child, there is a grown-up science of using them. There are systems and sets of techniques you can learn to apply to most any situation that will help you get other people to cooperate with you in achieving your goals. Those who use them successfully on behalf of their employers or clients almost always get ahead -- way ahead.

7. Good Judgment. Whether you call it good judgment, common sense, horse sense or common wisdom, it's one of the most valued abilities in any endeavor in virtually all societies. It is the ability to make accurate evaluations and prudent choices, especially in regard to other people. It is the abilility to develop informed opinions But more than that, it encompases a well-honed intuition and well-examined experience. It starts with the development of what is often called "critical thinking skills."

8. Financial. While you don't need to be a math whiz, you need to know about budgeting and planning, if you are in corporate management, because, well gollygee, you'll probably have a budget for whatever department you run. However, if you want to be a major player in the corporation you should know how highly valued is the knowledge of corporate financial matters, including raising capital, cash flow, asset management, tax planning, capital budgeting, valuation, mergers and acquisitions, credit management and the impact of government regulation. If you've taken an MBA, you've probably studied most that along the way. However, there's plenty of reasonably easy to understand information for the rest of us in books and seminars as well as relevant trade journals.

9. Writing. This is the information age. People want to know what you know. They want to have access to what you know even when they can't get access to you. So, they want you to write it down for them. They want you to write it concisely, accurately and in a way that is easy to understand. You want people to know and believe good things about you so that they will hire you, contract with you or buy your product. You need to provide them informative, credible, motivational and pursuasive literature that lets them know what you have done, what you know and what you can do. You absolutely, positively, without a doubt must be able to write in order to get to the top of your career, business or profession. In case I haven't stated that emphatically enough, let me repeat: ya gotta write. And if yer grammar or spellin' ain't no good, ya gotta fix 'em.

10. Speaking. At a minimum, you should be able to effectively run and participate in meetings. Even at the middle management level you must be able to speak up for yourself and your department in meetings; unless you can do so, you not only won't get promoted, you also won't be an effective manager. You should be able to argue for yourself when you want to get a raise in salary, get a budget approved or get a project approved. You should know how to be a good interviewee and a good interviewer. You simply have to learn to speak effectively to get a job, get the $ you want, get the assignments you want, get the information you want, disseminate the information you want to get out, get people to do things and hire good employees. You certainly must speak well at least one-to-one in order to sell anything. All of the foregoing require the same skills as public speaking. You can learn the skills from a book or class and practice with a few friends if you absolutely refuse to practice any other way. If you can tolerate it, learn public speaking. It is easy to learn the skills; the only real difficulty is the abject terror the average person feels in getting up before even a small audience to practice those skills. The easiest way I know to get the skills, practice them and become comfortable speaking to an audience of one or one thousand is to join a Toastmasters club. I did an experiment with this after I'd been in Toastmasters for a while. I started taking my mother to meetings. This sweet lady in her mid-70's swore to me that she'd be glad to plump up the club membership numbers by becoming a good audience for the others, but she would never, ever speak. Within a matter of weeks the only way we could keep her from speaking would have been to bind and gag her. She doesn't need the skills for business or employment. She's just having fun.

 Resources for Leadership:

Get the top books on Leadership:

•  Leader Effectiveness Training.  by Dr. Thomas Gordon.If you take no other recommendation on this page, at least take this one.  If you only learn the one skill of  "Active Listening" from this, you will be so far ahead of others in leadership that they will eat your dust.  I had years of education to get a Ph.D. and years of internship to qualify for licensing as a psychologist, but it was Dr. Thomas Gordon's books that taught me active listening, the primary skill for working effectively as a clinician. 
•  Leadership For Dummies. I like and recommend books from the "For Dummies" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to.." series.  They always contain complete coverage of all the basics, they are well-written by experts in their fields, they are sophisticated enough for someone with higher education and they are simple enough for the average guy.  You may want to go further after one of these series, but they great books as starters.
Read articles about Leadership on these sites:
The Art and Science of Leadership
(more than merely an article -- this is a guidebook from Big Dog.)
•  Managing yourself, leading others
•  Management General Ezine site with extensive articles collection.
•  Leadership That Works

Find a seminar in Leadership:

•  Gordon Training International: This is the organization established by the author of Leader Effectiveness Training, Dr. Thomas Gordon. See my book recommendation above as well as my review of his must-read Parent Effectiveness Training.  If you read his books, or even just scan them at a book store, you'll know why I say you will be pleased with the seminars based upon them. 
•  Dale Carnegie Training®-Leadership & Sales Training A Dale Carnegie course is always a classic.  I've never heard anything from the participants I've talked to except kudos.
•  Fred Pryor Seminars | Careertrack Seminars | Professional Development If you want training in leadership and a wide variety of related skills, including those mentioned below, this is the place to go for excellence in training and value for your money.
Resources for Organization and Time Management:
Get the top books on Organization:
•  The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organizing Your Life (Complete Idiot's Guide) .Jeff Davidson. 
•  The Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Your Time (Complete Idiot's Guide)  Jeff Davidson.
Resources for Selling Skills:
Get the top books on SellingSkills:
Selling For Dummies. Tom Hopkins.
Resources for Information Acquisition and Management:
Try this Book:
•  Find It Fast:How to Uncover Expert Information on Any Subject, by Robert Berkman

Try these guides:
•  Learning Search(tm)
•  A Helpful Guide to Search Engines 
•  How to Search the World Wide 
Web : A Tutorial for Beginners and Non-Experts
•  Team Knowledge Management.A white paper on -- what else? -- knowledge management.  This is a professional level paper.
Resources for Learning Current Technologies:
•  Study WEB 
•  SmartPlanet
Resources for Persuasion/Negotiation:
Read about Persuasion & Negotiation on these sites:
•  The Negotiation Skills Company - Articles
•  Negotiation Articles
Resources for Learning Good Judgment:
To get started on the thinking process involved, try these educational sites:
•  Mission: Critical (Home Page)
•  Critical Thinking Resources - Longview Community College
Resources for Financial Skills:
Get the top books on financial skills:
The Portable MBA in Finance and Accounting, by John Leslie Livingstone (Editor).  I like the "Portable MBA" series for the high quality of information and education.  It is basic and makes complex issues seem much easier to grasp and use right away.

Resources for Writing Skills:
Read this online book:
•   Strunk, William, Jr. 1918. The Elements of Style . This is the classic work on English grammar.  Read it and refer to it online free.
Visit these websites:
•  Garbl's Writing Resources Online
•  Exploring English - Knowledge Explorer Centre 
Resources for Speaking Skills:
Get the top books for speakers:
•  Toastmasters International Guide to Successful Speaking by Jeff Slutsky.
•  Secrets of Successful Speakers : by Lilly Walters, et al.
•  Toastmasters InternationalThe best organization in the world for learning how to speak. Join a club and learn to make formal presentations, think on your feet, speak up in class or in meetings, run Q&A sessions and generally have a lot of fun.  Yes, as a Toastmaster myself, I am prejudiced about this organization.
National Speakers Association.THE most important national organisation for networking speaking professionals and supporting their growth as speakers as well as the growing of their speaking careers. Local chapters in most regions of the country. Publications, other information, links to top resources for speakers. 
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