I’ve heard it from every angle, “Business school doesn’t prepare students for life in the real world.”
Even as a student I always asked myself if each class would really prove useful after graduation. Some classes seemed too corporate-minded to relate to my family’s small business. Some seemed irrelevant and impossible to apply in the real world. What I’ve learned from three years in the wholesale manager’s chair is this: there’s truth to both sides.
For the naysayers, there are many things I do each day that I can credit business school for knowing. Reviewing the income statement, balancing inventory and cash flow, and solving daily problems are all things that stem from my training in college. However, I would classify these as hard skills. Hard skills are essential for daily business, but are not the only tools necessary for success. Nonetheless, here are a few of my most beneficial classes and why:
It is critical to be able to read financial documents just like you can read this sentence. How can we plan for tomorrow if we don’t know where we stand today?
Whether a one-on-one sales pitch or a large audience, basic speaking skills can be the difference in attracting new relationships or driving them away. I use each speaking opportunity as a chance to add value to my audience and when I do, I always receive some form of value in return.
I don’t work in a factory, but I did learn something from this class. Many times, the issues we face merely are symptoms of a much larger underlying problem. I may not struggle with bottlenecks in the packaging department, but I do know how to dive into each problem and fix it at the source.
These skills are a great foundation to help me do my job well, but this isn’t all I can afford to bring to the table. My position requires me to employ several softer skills that are a little less tangible, but much more important. For this reason, they are difficult to teach in the classroom. Here are the major ones:
The people factor
In his book, “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions,” John Maxwell says, “Someone with weak people skills can become a reasonably good manager because management is focused on systems and procedures, but nobody without good people skills can be a great leader.” Think about it; we spend our days convincing customers, reps, employees and other human beings to do what we believe needs to be done. Without people, there would be no business to manage.
Leveraging a network
We can’t get the job done alone! That’s why it is important to have people on your contact list who are willing to offer some help or advice when you need it. Equally important, we need to be eager and ready to help when we receive the call for it. It’s not about keeping score; it’s about creating a connection and fostering it for the sake of each other.
Become a lifelong learner
I love Chris Brady’s statement in “Launching a Leadership Revolution.” “We need to live like we will die tomorrow and learn like we will live forever.” We cannot afford to stand still. We must always work to improve our skills and knowledge. I do this by reading books and engaging in conversation with new people. This keeps my mind open to the world around me and prevents me from getting too wrapped up in the way I see things.
Business school was a critical piece of the puzzle for me, but not the final one. The soft skills I discussed are constantly evolving and never completely mastered. They are important to be aware of and require constant and intentional work to develop. With that in mind, let us remember the skills that provide the foundation while continuing to develop the skills that build a great business.