Captains of business (RTOs included) – strong general business acumen 101


Business acumen is keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome.

by Brian Hill, Demand Media,

In a company, a manager seen as having general business acumen is one who consistently exercises sound judgment — the results of his decisions are most often favorable. Those he works with would say he has a quick mind that can assimilate information from many different sources and come up with sound strategic alternatives. He also has the quality of insight — being able to envision what the company should do now to bring about a more profitable, successful future.

Breadth of understanding

Within the management ranks, a company has experts in finance, accounting, marketing, production and information technology. But, even with this specialization, sound decision making requires the ability to see how the decisions you make affect other departments within the organization, to see each manager’s success as depending on the coordinated efforts of every other one. Great quarterbacks are said to have an unusual ability to “see the whole field.” In business, individuals with acumen have this quality as well.


General business acumen involves the ability to effectively communicate with all functional areas in the organization. Even if a marketing manager has never studied finance, she knows how to speak the language of finance well enough to convey the logic behind her budgetary requests so finance people can understand them and hopefully approve them. Individuals with acumen are always looking ahead, trying to gain insight into what opportunities will be coming and what competitive threats are likely to emerge. Acumen means having the ability to devise strategies to remain one step ahead of competitors, a quality sometimes called vision.


Managers who demonstrate strong general acumen have the opportunity to rise up through the ranks, sometimes all the way to CEO. Sound judgment is particularly critical for a CEO because her decisions affect everyone else in the organization. Someone who is seen as a “generalist” is often asked to take on high visibility roles such as leading a task force composed of managers from various departments that will deliver a report to the CEO or Board of Directors. An entrepreneur starting a company absolutely has to have the ability to manage all the functional areas of a business, because many times in the beginning he is on his own without other managers to support him. Entrepreneurs who are generalists with strong business acumen have an advantage over those with experience confined to a narrow business specialty.

Developing acumen

One way a manager can develop acumen is to increase her knowledge base about how the company operates. Learning how to be a better listener can make this process easier. Take the time to cultivate relationships with individuals in other departments and learn more about their challenges and concerns. Ask to be copied on research reports developed by the various departments in the organization. An assistant controller could read reports about competitors’ activities generated by the marketing division. She should try to learn everything she can about the company’s products and operations. This knowledge will help her sharpen her decision making when she is asked to contribute to discussions about which products or marketing strategies should be funded. The keen insights she contributes will be noticed by those above her and improve her chance of being considered for promotions.

5 ways to develop and strengthen your business acumen

Extract – by Julie Perrine,

1.    READ! (Listen and watch, too.)

Online, offline, and everywhere in between!  Read books. Read magazines. Read newspapers. Read junk mail. Read news stories via smartphone apps. Read blogs. Download free reports off of websites. Scan the content on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

When you read, scan for content that will help you better understand today’s business environment, give you a deeper understanding of industries you support, and educate yourself on new technologies and emerging marketing practices on the web. When you scan the seemingly random magazines and junk mail that comes across your desk, you’ll often find marketing ideas, best practices, innovative ideas on how to use social media for building corporate brands and promoting products and services online, new resources for event planning and meeting coordination, how to use software programs more efficiently, business and industry trends and economic factors affecting business and markets. The list is endless.

2.    Join professional or industry associations

Staying abreast of the latest industry or professional trends is much easier when you belong to professional or industry associations. Attending conferences and seminars keeps you connected to the pulse of what is going on in your profession and industry. Plus you benefit from developing your professional network locally, regionally, and globally. Be sure to join the association groups on social media sites such as LinkedIn for added benefit.

3.    Enroll in continuing education courses

One simple and often overlooked means of furthering your business education is taking classes. Investigate what your local community colleges offers. Research online business courses you may enroll in. You don’t have to pursue a degree program or go back to school full time. Advance your education one class at a time.

4.    Participate on company projects or committees

One of the best ways to gain a deeper understanding of how your company runs is to get more involved in company projects, committees, or special initiatives. Does your company have initiates in progress related to quality improvement, cost reduction, or process improvement? What about community involvement with local or national charities? Volunteer to help support or chair charity campaigns your company participates in. Sometimes you may have to ASK to be considered as a participant, but what you can learn about how business runs and about your company can be a business education in itself. At the very least, ask if you can job shadow or sit with a different team or department for a few hours each month to learn what they do at a deeper level.

5.    Develop your personal advisory board (and informed Mentor)

A personal advisory board is a small group of objective people who know you well, who are interested in your personal and professional success, and who are able to help you think. They can help accelerate your success and take some of the fear and uncertainty out of the process. A good personal board (and/or informed mentor) will provide both support and wisdom for you as you pursue your personal and professional goals.

It’s important to surround yourself with wise advisors if you want to develop your business acumen.  Your personal advisory board may include coworkers, colleagues from professional associations, friends, people you follow on the web, or even family members.

Think about who has sharp business skills and experience that you want to learn more from. Then figure out how you can spend more time with them in person or virtually.

Make it a weekly action item

The best way to continually develop your business acumen is to make it a regular part of your weekly routine.

Dan Kennedy, author of No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs, has a list of questions you can use to quiz yourself at the end of each week to help direct your focus for the week ahead.

What do you know this week that you didn’t know last week about…

  • Your company?
  • Your industry as a whole?
  • Your company’s competitors?
  • Your company’s customers or clients as a group?
  • Your company’s top 10, 20, or 30 customers or clients? (If you don’t know who these are, then find out. You should know this!)
  • One of your company’s clients or customers, individually?
  • One of the top leaders in your field or profession?
  • Societal, cultural, or economic trends that may affect your company’s business?
  • A “success” topic – personal finance, self-motivation, time management, project management, staying organized?
  • A “marketing” topic – direct-response advertising, social media marketing, copywriting that sells, direct mail, the Internet?
  • A person, event, or topic in the current news of great interest or importance to your company’s clientele?
  • A “method” – a means, process, technique of doing something useful to you, whether learning how to do a component of your job more efficiently or      using a piece of software more effectively?

Kennedy says if you actually discipline yourself to get one answer to each question worth putting down in writing just once a week, after a year, you’ll be 624 big steps ahead of your peers and competitors. That is an amazing statistic! And it will help you stand out as an administrative professional in ways you never imagined.

How to?

HEADS TOGETHER is part of a world wide community where businesses, charities and individuals come together to make a difference.



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