The most successful people always seek to improve their business acumen skills. Here are some of the most important to work on.

Steve Jobs said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is perseverance.” Jobs’ observation was a good one. Whether he knew it or not, what he was talking about was one of many business acumen skills, an essential component to the success of any businessperson.

What is business acumen?

Wikipedia defines business acumen as “keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation in a manner that is likely to result in a good outcome.” In other words, you’re quick on the draw when it comes to business; you know what will ultimately lead to success, and maybe most importantly, you have the ability to achieve the desired outcome.

Some business acumen skills are intuitive, but all of them can be learned. Jobs was a naturally perseverant man, but someone who struggles with persistence can practice it until he or she finds it intuitive as well. Or, if there are terms or concepts you don’t fully understand, you can take a class, partner with a mentor who can teach you, or even listen to a podcast on your way to work. There are always ways—and there’s always time—to enhance your business acumen.

Success takes time

The Steve Jobs quote is particularly relevant here because the most important thing to remember about developing business acumen skills is that success takes time. It’s easy in today’s society to feel like a failure after two or three attempts at something, but stopping there would be a mistake.

Thomas Edison, for example, failed over 10,000 times before finally creating the electric light bulb. Henry Ford went bankrupt twice before Ford Motor Company came along. Mary Kay Ash was repeatedly passed over for promotions before she broke away and started Mary Kay Cosmetics. Even Jobs built some uninspiring equipment and software that failed to impress before he changed the face of the way we communicate and live life today.

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Increase knowledge, hone your skills

Of course, time and perseverance alone don’t make a successful businessperson. Business acumen skills have to be practiced, learned, and studied if you want to get ahead of the pack. Apart from reading about those who have found success in the past, it’s important to understand the theories buried within business acumen that shape not only what you learn, but how it applies to business.

If you have the time, take a class. (If you don’t have the time, make the time.) Rub elbows with those who’ve been successful, ask them about their experiences. Spend more time listening than talking when you’re at a networking event.

Remember, business acumen skills are mostly irrelevant if you don’t first understand how the business works. It’s not just about knowing your product. You have to know about financial metrics, effective communication, how your decisions will impact your business, and how the different working parts of your company work together. In other words, improving business acumen skills means thinking more like an executive (even if you’re already an executive).

Executive thinking

So what does executive thinking look like? To start with, you have to be able to perceive the differences and intersections between different dimensions of the business. You have to be decisive and confident in those decisions. You have to know how those decisions will affect your teams and your bottom line. You have to be able to make sense out of challenging concepts and practices, and communicate that to others. You have to be okay with not knowing what the future holds, and you have to believe, as the celebrity list above did, that you will succeed.

The skills to get it done

Which business acumen skills help you achieve executive-level thinking? What do you need to improve upon to achieve success? Here are some of the most important things to focus on. Just remember that if something doesn’t appear on this list, it doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. If your gut tells you to focus on something, you probably should. Intuition, after all, plays a critical part in business acumen.

Understand financial metrics

If you don’t know the numbers, you’re going to have a hard time building the business.

Business leadership 

To be savvier, you have to be at the front of the pack, which requires understanding yourself as much as it does understanding the business.

Critical, logical thinking

Sounds simple, but examine your thinking practices and see if there isn’t something you can improve upon.


No more hemming and hawing. Take the information presented, analyze it, and make a decision. You can always fix mistakes if you’ve done your homework.

People management

People are the greatest asset in any business. Managing employees and customers is essential to a successful business.


Whatever you do—stick with it! With time, you’ll get where you’re going.

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What other business acumen skills do you find important? Share your suggestions in the comments below.