For a business to succeed and prosper, someone has to run it well. That someone is you—the executive. Like well-oiled machinery, a well-run business operates smoothly and effectively. In fact, the better the business is run, the simpler it looks to those on the outside. But those running it know all that goes into it in terms of skill, preparation, planning and execution. Let’s look at what running a business takes.

6 Keys to Running a Business as an Executive

1. Enhancing Business Acumen

An executive running a business, having a cheerful conversation with four employees

Running a business well requires you to continually develop and hone your business skills. Ideally, you will be able to look back at the end of every year and note how much you’ve improved, to the benefit of both yourself and the business. This doesn’t happen by osmosis. It takes intentionality and directed effort.

To enhance your business acumen, you can and should:

  • Read books and articles, listen to podcasts, etc.—especially in areas where you know you need to grow.
  • Attend conferences, seminars and webinars for more intensive training.
  • Network—join an association and/or mastermind group within your industry.
  • Familiarize yourself with the financial workings of your company—how and where resources are gained and spent.
  • Learn more about your customers/clients and what they look for, value, and respect.

2. Increasing General Knowledge of Business Principles

Knowledge is power. The more you know about business principles, the more you can apply them. Principles drive priorities, which drive strategy, which drives actions—daily operations, allocation of time and money, steps taken to reach goals, etc.

As with enhancing business acumen, you can increase your knowledge of business principles through ongoing training—books, seminars, webinars, podcasts, mastermind groups, etc.

3. Gaining an MBA or Other Advanced Degree

Bill Gates in 2014, wearing a black suit and silver tie

Bill Gates, pictured here in 2014, attended Harvard but never completed his degree. Photo by DFID – UK Department for International Development [CC BY].

Why do you need one of these? What about all those people, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who didn’t even finish college, yet started businesses that made them billionaires?

Those guys became famous by being the exceptions, not the rule! While you can certainly forge a successful executive career without any college degree, I can say from experience that it puts you at a disadvantage. Tens of thousands of executive coaching engagements have shown me that leaders with advanced degrees almost always have an edge over those who don’t.

What are the actual benefits of MBAs and similar advanced degrees?

  1. They demonstrate that you possess the knowledge and competence required to attain them.
  2. The skills you develop—study, public speaking, creativity, time management, etc.—will help you succeed in business and life.
  3. You will improve your ability to work in teams—for projects, presentations, study groups, etc.
  4. You will learn information relevant to running a business. Smile.
  5. A good MBA / advanced degree program will contain at least one practicum, where you will put your knowledge into practice and develop greater business skill.
  6. People with advanced degrees like MBAs really do earn more money.

4. Developing a Plan for Online Education

No executive has the time to go away to school for an extended period of time. Thankfully, modern technology has made it easier and more feasible (and often cheaper) to pursue an education online. The important thing is to plan for it. Consider the following in your plan:

  • Timing: When to start, how long the program will take, planned break times, etc.
  • Course load: How many credit hours can be reasonably taken while juggling work, personal life, etc.
  • Cost: Determining the most cost-effective means of gaining an online education, then budgeting for it.
  • Program and course choices: Which program and courses will produce the greatest benefit and most relevant development, both for you and your company.

5. Designing a Strategy to Better Understand the Workings of the Business

The workings of a business, represented by an executive touching gear graphics on a screen

Effective strategies produce desired results. In this case, the desired result is truly understanding how your own company and business works. Executives, especially those new to their position, need this understanding to run the business well and be respected by their subordinates. But this doesn’t happen by chance. You need to create and carry out a plan that works for you.

Determine what parts of the business you don’t know as well as you should, what gaps you need to fill in your understanding of the business, and what problems and issues you need to address. Then, design your learning strategy accordingly. This involves:

  • Doing a vast amount of varied research—online, in industry-specific magazines and books, etc.
  • Asking experts—those in your company who already know all the vital ins and outs—to advise you. An intentional mentoring and/or coaching relationship can and should be a part of this.
  • Enrolling in courses, webinars, and other means of training—whatever is most feasible and effective for you, given time and budget constraints and your own preferred style of learning.
  • Experimenting with different strategies to find the most effective one.
  • Periodic self and peer evaluation to measure progress and assess if you’re up to speed in every area.

6. Gaining Mentors in the Industry to Improve Business Acumen

No one knows everything, and you don’t know what you don’t know. This is where a mentor can help. Someone who’s already traveled further down the road, who can guide you and help you navigate what’s up ahead.

Mentoring involves an intentional, planned relationship between the mentor and the mentee. In a typical executive mentoring relationship, regular meetings (face to face, online, or by phone/app) are scheduled. During meetings, the mentor imparts relevant knowledge, teaches skills, answers questions, and facilitates growth in the mentee. The mentee takes notes, asks questions, practices new skills, and decides on actions that will transform new information into ongoing practice.

The mentor also acts as both a support and accountability partner, giving feedback and helping the mentee stay on track. But the mentee’s success is ultimately in their own hands. To gain the greatest benefit from the mentoring relationship, they need to act on decisions and feedback, report on what they do to improve between meetings, and maintain a posture of learning and growth.

For all of this to work, the mentor and mentee need to build a strong relationship of mutual trust and respect.

Benefits of effective mentoring include:

  • Greater knowledge.
  • Greater ability to anticipate, prevent, and solve problems.
  • Greater skill in needed areas.
  • Greater confidence.
  • An ongoing networking relationship, even after the formal mentorship period has ended.

Why Competency in Running the Business Matters

Two businessmen in a productive conversation

This competency is like the engine in a vehicle. If the engine doesn’t run, the vehicle can’t go anywhere. For a business, lack of an “engine” means continual loss and eventual bankruptcy. Conversely, if you bring this competency to your executive role, you can drive growth, profit, goal attainment, motivation, job satisfaction, and the overall success of the company.

Developing This Strength

Developing this strength starts with assessing your skills and behaviors when it comes to running the business. How are you doing with that? What are your strengths? What areas do you need to improve in?

To facilitate improvement, you can:

  1. Read good books on running a business, such as Start Run & Grow A Successful Small Business by Toolkit Media Group and Lean Business Planning by Tim Berry.
  2. Research helpful articles on business acumen, principles and strategy.
  3. Take good, solid business courses, whether online or in person.
  4. Get an executive coach and work with them on skills and attitudes related to running a business. An executive coach will help keep you accountable as you progress in this area.

If you are a bona fide senior executive and serious about taking your performance to the next level, I can help. I offer three complimentary executive coaching sessions to all executives in your position. To schedule our first call, just click the button below and choose the time and date that will work best for you.

Schedule Our Call

About This Competency

SOLID Execution competency highlighted in wheel diagramRunning the Business is one of SOLID’s 50 competencies critical to executive success. It falls under the category of Execution, one of five categories within the competency model, which is explained and downloadable at the end of this article. Overall, executives are responsible for, and must be competent in:

E9. RUNNING THE BUSINESS: Enhancing business acumen; increasing general knowledge of business principles; gaining an MBA or other advanced degree; developing a plan for online education; designing a strategy to better understand the workings of the business; gaining mentors in the industry to improve business acumen.

About Our Competency Model

SOLID Executive Competencies ebook coverThe SOLID Competency Model is based on two decades of research. It is founded on the premise that all executive competencies can be categorized into these five groupings: Core Character, Execution, Relationship, Management and Leadership. Executives must master all five categories to achieve excellence in their roles. This model is useful for gauging and quantifying your skillset, understanding what it takes to be an effective executive, and providing a framework for improving performance. For more information, download “SOLID Executive Competencies: What It Takes to Be an Executive.”

About the Author

Daniel Joseph Mueller, in charge of running the business at SOLIDleadersDaniel Joseph Mueller is a lifelong entrepreneur and executive coach. He currently serves as President and CEO of SOLIDleaders and manages a Christian nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas. In the past, he has run a management training company, a business advisory firm, and an organizational development consultancy, all as CEO. Learn more in Daniel’s bio.