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The three skill sets you need to excel in a changing business environment

No matter what industry you work in, the challenges in today’s business environment are rapidly evolving — and success lies in our ability to keep up. Diana Drury, Director of Team and Executive Coaching for the MBA/Master programs at Smith School of Business, shares how the school is preparing future leaders to excel through teaching skills that cannot be found in a textbook, yet are vital to professional success, and how you can develop these skills to help you on your own career journey.


By Hailey Eisen




Today’s business environment is moving faster than ever. Every industry is constantly changing. So how do we prepare ourselves to excel in an ever-evolving world?

“What you know is important,” says Diana Drury, Director of Team and Executive Coaching for the MBA/Master programs at Smith School of Business. “But even more important is how you navigate the world, problem solve, and engage with others.” It’s these interpersonal, social, and emotional skills that employers want to see, especially when hiring for leadership positions. 

They can’t be found in a textbook, yet they are vital to professional success. At Smith, says Diana, these are the intangibles of the MBA program. “We help students build these skills through teamwork, real-life experiences, and extensive coaching.”

Diana shares three skill sets that can benefit anyone looking to advance their business career. 



1. Insights on human dynamics 

Managing, motivating, and engaging with others are essential leadership skills today. Rarely do people work in isolation. As such, being attuned to human dynamics or the needs, desires, and backgrounds of others is essential. “In the workplace, you don’t get to choose who you’re working with,” explains Diana. “Success comes when you can recognize your own patterns of behaviour and biases, which will influence how you work within a team and as a leader.” 

The first step towards an effective team is recognizing the differences that arise as a result of cultural backgrounds, age and life experiences. The goal should be to establish understanding and trust early on. This can be achieved with open channels of communication, access to cultural intelligence training, as well as guidance in conflict management, difficult conversations, and issue resolution, among other things, says Diana.  


“Success comes when you can recognize your own patterns of behaviour and biases, which will influence how you work within a team and as a leader.”


2. Self-awareness and resilience 

Recognizing your own patterns of behaviour requires a certain level of self-awareness — something that does not always come naturally. “To recognize your own patterns, it’s helpful to be open to receiving constructive feedback from others,” Diana explains. This requires active listening. It’s easy to form habits or behaviour patterns that you’re unaware of. But with open transparent communication, you can better understand how you are contributing to the team dynamic.  

Smith uses assessments and coaching to help students understand and anticipate response patterns. “We’ve been using the Big Five personality assessment to help individuals understand where their personality preferences are, what strengths and attributes they bring to the team, and where their vulnerabilities lie,” Diana says.  

From a place of self-awareness and vulnerability comes increased resilience. “What we’re hearing more and more from the corporate world is that MBA students may have the skills, teamwork abilities, and cultural intelligence needed to be successful in the workplace, but what they are often lacking is resilience,” Diana says. 

Resilience comes from experiential learning. It can’t be taught, but, like a muscle, it can be strengthened. 

“We put the MBA students through a rigorous resilience training program which is unpredictable and challenging,” Diana says. “Over the course of a weekend, they’re challenged to push themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, and to work closely as a team.” This resilience training helps students understand the extent to which they can push themselves when faced with ambiguity or the unknown. 

In the business world, resilience training is beneficial for working collaboratively, managing time, facing challenges head on, and understanding your own productivity outside of your comfort zone.

3. Experience and exploration

There’s nothing more beneficial than life experience to build the toolkit to excel in the workplace. 

Smith’s team-based learning model broadens students’ experiences by placing them in a team they’re unfamiliar with — to put everyone, despite their age, background or experience, on an equal playing field — and then have them tackle projects and assignments together. “We work with students to get them comfortable giving and receiving feedback, encouraging them to push boundaries individually and within their groups.” Through this model students learn to try, fail, and try again, knowing that they are in a safe zone.

While a school environment makes it easier to set the stage for specific growth experiences, it’s still possible to employ the tactic in your own career — by pushing yourself, expanding your experiences, challenging your assumptions, and growing beyond what’s typically comfortable or known to you.

“We know that challenges in the business world are evolving at a fast pace,” says Diana. But with the right skill sets, you can evolve along with them.


Self-awareness, resilience and a growth mindset are all crucial in today’s business world. At Smith School of Business, you will work with expert coaches dedicated to helping you build your leadership capacities and realize your potential. Learn more about Smith’s suite of MBA programs here.