What I Learned: Lessons from leaders in business

Key lessons from seasoned, successful business people can put you on the right track to getting the most out of your career. We asked two business instructors at UCLA Extension what areas are most important to anyone wanting to get ahead in business.

The focus factor

“The most important factor is focus,” said Mark Buchman when asked about lessons he has learned from his long and successful career in international banking. “Don’t spread yourself all over the place. The most successful people I have known in management and business are focused on what they are doing.”

An instructor at UCLA Extension, as well as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, Buchman, a retired bank CEO and former CEO of the Government National Mortgage Assn., added that many companies experienced problems in the 1960s and ’70s when they lost focus and expanded into sprawling conglomerates. 

“My number two piece of advice,” said Buchman, “is if you don’t understand something, don’t do it. Number three, my favorite acronym is KISS: keep it simple stupid. Number four has more to do with human relations and management: Commend in public, reprimand in private. You see so many people yell in public and it really does destroy morale.”

Focus is also a key factor for Nance Rosen, branding instructor at UCLA Extension and CEO of Shoutbrand, a company that offers personal branding classes and coaching. It’s all about having a desired outcome and preparing for it, she said.

“You can’t get anywhere if you don’t know where you are going,” Rosen said. “I had a client who wanted to go from working in customer service to selling media for the Major League Baseball Channel. She steeped herself in all the information, we worked out the conversations she needed to have, and she got the position. Having an outcome sets your brain in motion.”

Being successful as a woman in a man’s world also takes keeping your eye on the ball, Rosen said.

“I’m focused on success,” she added. “For a long time I was the first woman or the youngest person ever to hold several positions.”

Hone communication skills

Rosen has developed what she calls a foolproof communication system, geared to help other people appreciate your perspective, overcome objections and reduce resistance.

“Communicate without the residue of what I call your ‘ocean of negativity,’” she said. “See each situation for what it is, not as a reflection of your past — not your past failures and not how you feel about emotional issues you haven’t had time to resolve.”

“I rely on that system all the time,” she continued. “I say it’s the ‘backbone of success’ because it takes the focus off the differences between us and creates a powerfully positive way to connect on mutual goals. It transforms resistance to you, and creates collaborative experiences.”

Rosen teaches her students to develop crisp, clear and compelling stories — ­and have them ready to tell “on trigger.” That makes it easier to think and speak clearly regardless of the circumstances.

For example, Rosen, who is a former marketing executive at Coca-Cola, said that when she went there for the job interview she had no experience in consumer marketing.

“What the recruiter said would be a nearly three-month process of interviews was over in a day,” she said. “I used my communication skills in one meeting after another and I had the offer before I got back on the plane from Atlanta to Los Angeles.” 

She also believes in simplicity. “The secret is to be audience-friendly,” she said. “Don’t use jargon, make sure you find something to like in the people you’re with, and use the crisp stories you have prepared and practiced to show what you know.”

Be authentic and find your passion

Buchman believes that success comes easier when you follow your passions.

“I tell my students to try to do what your heart tells you,” he said. “Don’t just do something out of conformity. While you’re young and are able, try to do what your passion is.” 

“Everybody seems to have an opinion of who you are and what you should do largely based on their perspective of the world,” Rosen said. “I found [that] once I shed all the beliefs about who others thought I was, it was easy to get what I imagined. In fact, I had to enlarge my goals because being authentic gives you immense energy and power.”

Develop a personal brand

Identifying your personal brand allows you to be open-minded when it comes to jobs and careers. For example, Rosen has developed what she calls her “personal brand triad” to encapsulate exactly what she has to offer the business world: “I am smart, inventive and encouraging.” 

Rosen said that though her “brand” would not be particularly helpful if she wanted to become a mechanical engineer, it’s valuable in a range of fields including marketing, publishing, teaching, coaching and public speaking — all areas in which she has found success.

Rosen believes you will never regret a day of education, on whatever subject, because you never know when something you’ve learned will be important in a job.

Learn from the mistakes of others

Everyone makes mistakes over the course of their business careers. But highly successful people learn from those mistakes, Buchman said.

Reaching back into his own past, he said that he once approved a project based on ego and the hope that it would advance his career rather than what was good for the company. 

Rosen said that one of her biggest mistakes was improvising on her public radio show while interviewing legendary Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca and attempting small talk that ended up making her sound ridiculous.

“From that point on, I learned that there really is no ‘casual conversation’ in business. You have to be prepared,” she said.

Julia Clerk for UCLA Extension

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