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Best Business Courses for Managers

October 22, 2014

Every company needs strong managers who add value–no matter the type of industry or the state of the economy. If an industry is in a state of decline, businesses need strong managers to weather the storm. When the economy is booming, the company needs someone to take it to new heights of success. With adequate training and a complete grasp of what it takes to be a successful manager, you can be that person.

A survey conducted by the American Management Association gathered insights from over 2,000 managers and executives about what skills they value when analyzing their organization. Respondents were asked to assess the importance of seven different skills broken into two groups: The Four Cs and the Three Rs.

Traditionally, the Three Rs are considered the basic skills required of anyone in business: Reading, writing, and arithmetic. These skills, while important, will not set you apart from the pack or make you stand out when executives are looking for new managers. In order to do that, you must also excel at the Four Cs.

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The Four Cs consist of critical thinking and problem solving skills, communication skills, collaboration and team building skills, and creativity and innovation skills. In the survey, 79.5% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that fusing the Three Rs with the Four Cs will ensure readiness in the 21st century business world. In fact, 75.7% of respondents believe that these skills will become more important in the next 3-5 years, and in a follow up survey, 74.6% of respondents felt the same way. Business leaders know what they want from future managers, and you have the tools to take the next step.

What Companies Are Looking for

Critical Thinking Skills ranked at the top of the list for executives when asked which of the Four Cs they felt were the most important for their employees to master. As a manager, it is your responsibility to recognize and handle problems in a timely manner. Critical thinking and problem solving skills support your ability to do so. The perceived importance of critical thinking skills is on the rise as analytics and big data become more important in making every day decisions. The time to improve these skills is now. According to a survey conducted by the AMA on the rise of Big Data, 64% of organizations surveyed say they do not have the capabilities to meet all of their anticipated analytical skills needs. Taking a critical thinking or problem solving course can vault you into the “above average” category and a management position in your company.

Creativity and innovation bring life to a company’s ideas and product portfolio. The people with the best ideas are the ones who have developed these skills over time and through practice. Taking a class on creativity and innovation will teach you methods to develop your “idea muscles” so you can assess a situation and see what others are not seeing. Only 39% of respondents believe that their employees are “above average” in terms of creativity and innovation, and with so much room to grow, sharpening your creative skills can only benefit you in the future.

Communication skills are also reported as insufficient. The percent of employees rated as “above average” in terms of communication skills dropped from 38.1% to 37.6% over a two-year period, compared to almost 50% being rated as “average.” The importance of communication skills has intensified given the rise of social media and the drastic change in the 21st century for how managers communicate with their teams. These skills encompass reading, writing, verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as public speaking and presentation skills. What good is having a groundbreaking idea if you cannot effectively and concisely communicate that idea? Courses on communication skills can help you become a better team player and improve your impact on the bottom line, making you more valuable overall.

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Collaboration between employees and even between organizations is an important skill to have in a changing marketplace. Along with communication, collaboration requires the ability to listen to others’ ideas and give and receive criticism in a constructive way. Less than half of executives reported their employees “above average” in terms of collaborative skills, leaving much room for improvement. Learning how to accept your role in a group or team is not always a simple task, but collaboration and team building skills can be sharpened as well through the many courses offered to professionals today.

Finance skills are also a must for any aspiring managers and executives. As a manager, you will undoubtedly be asked to complete projects and provide your team with resources within a specific budget. Working within that budget may be the difference between success and failure, and understanding why requires financial skills. Concepts like ROI, debt-asset ratio, EBITDA, gross margin, and bottom line may sound foreign, but through financial courses you can learn not only what they mean, but how to manage them to help your company be successful.

Project management skills play a vital role in determining your success as a manager. You will be responsible for different projects–often many at once–of varying levels of complexity, importance, and scope. Having the ability to prioritize between them and among you and your team sets you apart from the pack. Honing your project management skills also helps you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your team so you can properly delegate roles and responsibilities, saving time and money. There are many courses on project management that can help you be a more effective and efficient manager.

Management skills are obviously of critical importance as well. You can’t be a great manager without great management skills! In addition to all of the skills listed above, general management skills help you become a top performer in your organization. You must be capable of setting adequate and attainable goals for your team while inspiring them to achieve those goals and be on top of their game. Management courses range from specific to high-level, but any class you take will put you on the road to becoming a better manager.

There are a multitude of courses you can take to make yourself a better manager, employee, or executive. Whether you learn how to communicate more effectively, manage projects within a budget, or become more adept at problem solving, the important part is making sure you are on the right track. So with that thought in mind, ask yourself one question: Am I doing enough for my career?

Research referenced in this article includes the original AMA Critical Skills Survey, the follow-up AMA Critical Skills Survey, and AMA’s survey on Big Data.

For related reading, be sure to check out management tips and advice on AMA’s Playbook.

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About The Author

Chris Brown is a content marketing coordinator at the American Management Association. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a BS in Marketing and a minor in Italian.

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