Top Essential Skills for Success – Mark Herschberg

In this week’s episode, we are joined by Mark Herschberg. Mark is the author of The Career Toolkit – Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. He believes that the fundamental skills for success are universal. These include leadership, communication, negotiation, and networking. He believes that these skills are often overlooked given that these are the most important.

From a high school nerd to a sales manager. He realized that his childhood has limited him in doing his best. He didn’t do well in communicating. He wasn’t good at building relationships. Only when he became a manager that he thought no one ever teaches these things. Networking according to him is more than the passing of business cards but more of building a relationship rooted in trust. It is learning to give before getting anything.

Mark’s website:


Katie Brinkley 0:02

Hi friends. I’m Katie Brinkley and you’re listening to Rocky Mountain marketing. This podcast is all about helping Colorado based small business owners, entrepreneurs, realtors and professionals discover the strategies and systems that take their marketing to all new heights. Let’s dive into today’s episode.

Welcome back to Rocky Mountain marketing. My guest today is Mark Hirschberg. Mark is the author of the career toolkit, essential skills for success that no one taught you. From tracking criminals and terrorists on the dark web to creating marketplaces and new authentification systems. Marc has spent his career launching and developing new ventures at startups and fortune 500. And in academia, he helped to start the undergraduate practice opportunities program dubbed MIT’s career success accelerator where he teaches annually. Mark, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Mark Herschberg 0:56

Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. Yeah. And you know what, that’s that is quite the introduction. I think that people might save him. Well, what is he What is he going to bring the show and this is, I’m really excited to talk about your new book and the power that you you give in your book to entrepreneurs and small business owners. Well, I’ve done many things in cybersecurity and some tech startups, many of the skills that we teach in the class at MIT, which are universal skills, not just for MIT students, not just for undergrad, these apply to all of us in our careers, and in the businesses we run. So when we look at these fundamental skills, like leadership, negotiating networking, communications, they can help all of us in our professional and our personal lives. So you know, I like to have my guests, I kind of like to warm up the audience a little bit and get to know you a little bit. So you’re not just another talking head. Tell us a little bit about you. Let’s start back at the beginning. Tell us where you grew up and what your life was like growing up. I grew up outside of New York and outside of Chicago, classic 80s, nerd love chess, and sci fi and socially was what you would think about a kid in those times with those interests. So I certainly was not one of the popular kids. But I was, was happy with my interest in reading books on physics and playing science games. I love it. I love it. And you know, it’s funny because, you know, the older we get, the more we realize that elementary school and high school and stuff that it really doesn’t matter.

Katie Brinkley 2:36

Well, what do you think your upbringing? How do you think that your upbringing impacted your eventual career and professional journey?

Mark Herschberg 2:43

You it certainly gave me a setback at first. Growing up in that environment. I was socially stunted. I didn’t develop my social skills the way other students did. And that was limiting. Now at a place like MIT where I did my undergraduate graduate work less. So it was more about analytically, can we do the math, can we do the work, and I was fine. It really wasn’t until I got to my career, where suddenly just having raw IQ wasn’t sufficient. And although I was doing a good job, in the mechanics of my work, I wasn’t communicating well, I was sometimes saying the wrong thing. I wasn’t building the right relationships. And that definitely limited me a bit. At first, I didn’t make the most of the opportunities I had. And it wasn’t the moment I recognize this, that I more proactively went out to learn and understand this, which I think gave me an advantage because people who had this more naturally, just think, Okay, I’ve got this is working for me. And they were okay with the level they were at starting from a from like a position further back. I really focused on to really accelerate to build the skills, I think, more than most people do.

Katie Brinkley 3:54

And I’m sure that that led directly into the career toolkit

Mark Herschberg 3:58

it did when I became a manager, I recognized the importance of these skills. And as I would interview people, I’d ask a technical question about accounting or software or whatever is hiring for, and I get that technical answer. Great. Then I would ask a question, what makes someone a good teammate? Because of course, we don’t work in isolation. And I would get blank stares. And I realized I knew this because I had set out to understand it. But most of us, we never learned this at no point in your college education do they talk about here’s how to recognize a good teammate and how you can be an effective teammate. And yet we talked about working in teams and our businesses. So I had proactively done this, but it’s not common. And I looked for materials to train up my staff I didn’t find much. At the same time, MIT had gotten a grant, because corporations from around the world were telling us, your students are great, they’re really smart, but we wish they were better at these skills. It’s not just MIT similar feedback to career offices all across the country. have been consistent wanting to see leaders not meaning in a title leader, but people who display qualities of leadership, and communicators and strong teammates and people good networking and negotiating, having good ethics. But we don’t teach any of this in school. And so fortunately, I was connected with MIT, I said, I’ve been focusing on this in my company. And they said, Oh, you know, well, they’re trying to say, so let me let me give you some help. And so they invited me to help design some of the class and then they asked me to come help teach. I’ve been teaching there for 20 years now. And for years, I’ve encouraged the program to really put this content out further, because again, it’s not just MIT undergrads who need this. It’s all of us in the workplace. And I eventually just turned that into a book.

Katie Brinkley 5:46

That’s awesome. And I think that too, one of the things that’s not taught is the power of networking. I know that for me. And when I first started my business as an entrepreneur, I came from the corporate side of things. And I remember when someone said, Hey, I’m going to a networking event, I was like, Oh, my gosh, why would you want to go to a work thing and talk about work after work? That sounds terrible. But I think that a lot of people that are in college that go directly into the corporate world, that’s what they think, too. And I know that one of the things you talk about in your book is the power of networking,

Mark Herschberg 6:23

networking, the two common mistakes are either Why do I need to network or it’s that Oh, networking means I go and exchange a bunch of business cards. And down the road, I call on these people, I need a job. Neither of those are networking. Networking is about forming relationships. It is about building those relationships. Some might be friendships, but some are work only relationships. There are people I know, we don’t hang out on weekends. But we know we can call on each other. Because we’ve built this relationship over time, we’ve built this trust and connection, and those people are available to me, yes, we need a job. But also, if I need a supplier, I just put a friend of mine, he said he had two weeks to stand up a call center, he was under tight time pressure, because this client had a live event that actually started today. And I have a longtime friend who I know had experienced this and I connected the two of them. And he got 100 person call center set up in two weeks, nothing to do with he needed a job. It’s about he needed help. And we had that relationship. And I could connect to people a network to help them. So our network is built up over time. But then we can use it for our needs, whether it’s a job or help with a vendor or a partner, even I need information, I need to learn more about something I know you’re an expert at. And that’s how you think about our networks as an extension of ourself for more resources, knowledge and access.

Katie Brinkley 7:46

Yeah, I think that that is a great way to think of networking, not because that’s how I used to be the other way that at the very beginning when he said, just exchanging business cards, and if you need a job, then pick up the business card and reach out. But that is, it couldn’t be further from the truth. And it’s so important to build those relationships, and find those people that you can call on and refer out. That’s what’s helped me with with my business grow, is the relationships and the connections that I’ve built in my network. So if someone is kind of saying, Okay, well, Mark, you’ve kind of made me reconsider going into the networking world. How do I find a good network? How do I network effectively,

Mark Herschberg 8:27

it really is building relationships over time. And one way to think about if you need to borrow money, if you need to borrow $10,000, tomorrow, who are you going to ask your best friend from high school who you’ve known for 20 years, the company you’ve had a partnership with for the past 10, or the person who you met last week at some networking event and got the business card, right. So we recognize that the longer and deeper the relationship, the more we can ask from it. And so we recognize that it takes time to build these relationships. And that’s the mentality you have to have Rome wasn’t built in a day, you can’t think I’m just going to get you know, a bunch of cards, add them on LinkedIn, and suddenly have a network. It is about going out and overtime, building that relationship. There’s a lot of concrete techniques I get into in the book. We don’t have time to get into all of them. But fundamentally think about how do I give before I get whenever I meet someone, I think, How can I help you? Now it doesn’t mean I’m giving you that $10,000 loan today I meet you, but means let me get to know you let me understand what matters to you what’s important, and is there anything I can do that’s below that? $10,000 Mark? Of course, we don’t think of everything in dollar amounts. It’s just a very concrete example. But how can I be helpful? Can I share some insight with you can connect you to someone can do something to help you and that begins to foster the relationship. And then over time, I find ways to reach back out and keep it going. So you’re not the person I last talked to several years ago, and now I’m calling out of the blue.

Katie Brinkley 10:02

You know, and that’s one of the things too, that drives me nuts is people on LinkedIn will reach out to me and I don’t know them. And they’re like, Okay, well, that seems like someone that I would maybe like to have in my network. So I’ll accept the invitation. And then they instantly try to sell to me, and I’m like, whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s let’s back up here, I still don’t know you. It doesn’t mean I want to buy insurance from you, just because I connected with you on LinkedIn. So you do need to treat these social media networking platforms, the same way that you would treat a an in person networking platform. And like you said, it’s all about the relationships, you’re not going to walk up to somebody, I would hope you wouldn’t walk up to someone, hand them your business card and say, okay, buy from me, some people might, and maybe they’d found success that way. But I don’t think that I think that would be very, very rare to find success that way.

Mark Herschberg 10:48

And this is a common mistake. i There’s a section in the book called, don’t try to sell me that you’re networking. Because a lot of sales people confuse sales and networking. And I understand having to sell I even understand cold calling, right? If you have to prospect, you have to just send out the emails off the list for the calls, I get it. And I’m not offended if you’re doing that I’m offended if you’re wasting my time, because you didn’t figure out. No, I don’t buy that, right. Like I’m a CTO, this is what I do. Don’t try to sell me accounting software. But when you reach out to sell, be upfront of that. Don’t pretend I want to be your friend, don’t pretend I want to build a relationship with you, if what you’re looking for is transactional. And so a lot of unfortunately, sales people think, oh, right, I need a big network, and we’re gonna build a relationship, and you’re more likely to buy from me with a relationship. And that’s true, you’re more likely to buy if you have a relationship, but that relationship takes time. If you want to get to know me and build that relationship. And two years down the road. Yeah, you tell me, Hey, you got a product that you think can help me. But if you’re meeting me and saying, let’s connect, let’s get coffee, and let me tell you about Mike right product? No, you weren’t interested that relationship, you were interested in the fastest way to make a sale. That’s just disingenuous. That is not networking.

Katie Brinkley 12:04

I couldn’t agree more with that. And I think that one of the things that you also talk about in your book is how to be an effective leader. And in addition to the networking tips that you give, and I think that being an effective leader, as a small business owner, can be tough, because there’s a lot to do. And there’s a lot of hats to where, and sometimes, you know, just being a really good leader, you might not even realize that you’re not, you might just be thinking about I have to get this done. And this done. And this done. And this done. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you would guide someone or the advice that you’d give them on being a strong leader in a small organization,

Mark Herschberg 12:42

one of the most important things to remember is that true leadership is not positional authority is positional, you are the CTO or an executive. And yes, you have the power to fire people to sign checks to make deals. But that doesn’t always mean leadership. And there are people who are in these authority positions who are terrible leaders. But of course, the employees listen to them because they want to keep their job, especially when we’re in a recessionary environment. On the other hand leadership, if you’ll forgive a maybe kind of touchy feely analogy, it’s like love, there’s no limit that you have a fixed amount of leadership. And if you if you share it, yours is diminished. And so you do not have to be the only leader in your company, if it’s all on your shoulders, which it usually is. And certainly the responsibility is on your shoulders, making payroll is on you growing the business is on you, you can’t, you can’t get rid of the responsibility. But of course, we do allocate some of the tasks, right, we’re not doing everything ourselves. That’s why I have employees that we delegate or delegate or allocate, we can do the same with our leadership. Elevate people in your company, teach them leadership skills, because if you’re in a company of 820 people, instead of everyone turn to you if you have other people who are also leaders, not challenging your authority, but they can step off and they can help promote the goals and the values and the direction of your company. That’s one less thing for you to do. And it doesn’t make you less of a leader. If you look at the president. Right, the president United States, he has a cabinet. He has a vice president’s chief of staff, and we certainly know that cabinet members, they are authorities, you know, say how you know you’re not you’re not really hands on with the Postal Service. You have a postmaster general you Are you really the leader of the free world. We say they’re leaders, because they know surround themselves with other leaders, helps make it easier on all of them. And you can do the same thing. Your authority is not diminished, because you ultimately retain that authority from your position. But you can share the leadership and take one more thing off your plate doesn’t mean advocating leadership totally. But again, elevating other leaders means you can be a leader along with them. And it’s, it’s better for everyone in the company.

Katie Brinkley 14:56

Well, I mean, it’s all about delegation and delegate Getting people to take on those different leadership roles. What do you think that’s something a lot of small business owners might struggle with is is, I mean, I know I definitely struggle with kind of taking the training wheels off and allowing someone else to take on the task because I’ve, I fear that they’re not going to do it as good as me. I think. And I think that’s a common problem with a lot of small business owners is like, I just need to do it, because no one else will be able to understand how to do it as good as I do. And how do you kind of coach people or talk to people about kind of letting go of that thought,

Mark Herschberg 15:35

and it’s understandable, especially as small business, IBM can lose $2 million on our project, and no layoffs happen. If you lose a single client, if you have a bad week, this can really impact you in a very negative way. And so we have no safety net in our small businesses. And so it’s understandable why you’re doing this, can you find small projects to start them out, give them modest supervision. And if you have someone and you’re going to give them some authority, or delegate, and you say, Okay, Sarah, we want to expand your responsibilities. We’d like you to take this on. And not just I’m dumping more work on you. Now you have to do it. But I respect you, I believe in you, I want to elevate you and give you more authority. And I don’t just want to throw work on you. I want to give you this authority responsibility, but I want to make sure you’re trained up can do it correctly. You start with partial projects or small projects, you have regular check ins along the way. Don’t just say, okay, hey, you own these three clients. Now, don’t screw it up. You say, Okay, I’m gonna transition these clients to you, we’re going to start you’re gonna sit in some of these client meetings. And then we’re going to reflect on we’re going to talk about what have you learned? What are you thinking? And before you do things, first, you’re going to run the plan by me say, okay, yep, you’re thinking of it the right way, or let’s make these modifications. And over time you start to realize in this check ins, it’s all yeah, great job, Sarah, you got this. So you reduce the check ins, you reduce the oversight. So you can start with training wheels, that’s fine. And so it’s the key is when you elevate someone instead of just saying, do it, it’s on you, we’re going to train that person up, we’re going to show them that we respect them. And that’s why we’re giving them this responsibility. And then we’re going to help them along the way.

Katie Brinkley 17:24

What do you think that one of the biggest mistakes is for small business owners when they’re when they’re just trying to grow and sustain a successful businesses?

Mark Herschberg 17:33

That’s a that’s a broad question. So there are lots of challenges. Some could be that what worked to get you here doesn’t work going forward. And this is a common mistake we see. Now that can be for a number of reasons. One common thing I see in growth businesses is just how you scale. And so what it is of small businesses, and you’ve gotten every customer yourself, and you’ve held their hand, and you’ve personally watched it, that works when you’re adding a customer say every other week, that doesn’t work when you’re adding three customers a week, which is what you really want to do you want to have time for that. And so now you have to scale it up. Now you have to delegate to someone else, or you have to create a repeatable process, right? We think about creating processes, especially because you intuitively know how to do it. You’ve done this many times, when you’re handing it to someone else you want to say here’s the seven steps you need to do. So they’re going to be within this range and not this range as they add new new folks to it. You also kind of challenges as you add new people, are they fitting in? Well, we onboarding them to the team correctly. And it’s not just okay, we train them. You know, here’s where you get the coffee. And here’s how you get paid. But understanding how people communicate and interact and team dynamics. That’s important when I fit them in well, so that they mesh with the other team. We recognize everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. And we can leverage that. So those are two of unpredicted issues that I’ve seen with small businesses.

Katie Brinkley 19:05

Well, and I think that the one you brought up was scaling is most definitely one of the hardest, because how do you bring on more evolving, I mean, because if you’re trying and kind of stay the same, you’re not gonna be able to evolve, you’re not gonna be able to scale, you’re not gonna be able to grow and really move the needle on your business. If you don’t do exactly what you said, you can kind of be willing to delegate and be willing to hold someone’s hand while they learn some of the business and then eventually we’ll just let them go. Because that’s scaling is tough. And I think that really the one of the hardest reasons to scale is just that trust factor of being afraid of not knowing who to hire or being afraid that they’re not going to do it as good as you. But again, I think that comes all the way back to the very beginning of the importance of networking and trying if you have a strong network, you can find the right people to fill those holes that you need. Need to really help your business take off and be successful,

Mark Herschberg 20:03

you also get a diversity of perspectives. So now especially as we’re looking to come out of the pandemic, we know the world is different. Some things are temporary, but some things are really going to be a long term change our customers, our suppliers, our partners will all be different. And so what worked three years ago, where you will understood your customers and how they think you need to reassess that. And so it’s important to think about how is my customer today, what has changed, and you’re gonna see some of that you can get some of that by talking to them, talking to other business owners talking to other people in your industry, other people in other industries, get their perspectives, see how they’re looking at these changes. And then take those ideas and incorporate them into your own business, the bigger your network, the more ideas you can have coming to you.

That is so right on. I love it. Because for me, as with social media, we’ve seen a complete rise in need for having a strong social media presence during this pandemic. And there was a lot of things that I didn’t even think about we I had a coffee shop owner, who during the pandemic, he transitioned his his coffee shop into Facebook groups. And I mean, that’s just a brilliant idea that I never really would have thought about right off the top of my head, and he was able to grow and be successful. And now he’s immersed himself in the community. And it’s all about hearing different strategies, different ideas from other people. I mean, I’m I don’t have a coffee shop. But it’s a great strategy that could work for another business. And if you build your busier your network up, you’re going to be able to share those strategies and those ideas. And really, we’re all in this together. I think that there’s enough business for everybody, and sharing those ideas. And those tips are what is going to help you really move the needle and be successful as a business owner and entrepreneur.

Absolutely. Coffee shops, a great example. Because if you just go and buy coffee, you might think of the coffee shop as a place to buy coffee. So logical conclusion, this owner recognize the coffee shop, yes, it sold coffee. But the value proposition went further. It was about a community. In fact, Starbucks, their whole premise was we want to be your third place, you have your office, you have your home. And the third place where you hang out is our coffee shop. And so for those of us who just go and buy coffee and go to whatever other places, we don’t think that way. Maybe your business can also be maybe not the third place people hang out. But how do you think about making more of a community? How do you get your customers, your partners, your suppliers together, and create more value there. And of course, when we’re doing this, this is another example of how we as small business owners, it’s not just on us and on our shoulders. If we can empower our teams to get better at networking, then instead of just you going out, you now have all eight people at your company, all 30 people going out building their networks, and now everyone can tap into not one person’s network but 30 people’s networks, how much more power for you.

Katie Brinkley 23:06

I love it. I love it, mark this is this has been a great discussion. And we haven’t even really gotten to talk about your book too much. Talk to us a little bit about a little bit more about the career toolkit, and how no matter where you are with your career journey. Why this is a great book to pick up and read

Mark Herschberg 23:24

the book. It works for people throughout their career. It we think of it more of the skills that you should get early in your career, but we’ve had success with people in their 40s 50s even 60s, really benefiting from these skills. And even small business owners have said yes, this is helpful to me as an owner. The book itself is divided into three parts. First section is on workplace and careers. Chapter one is career planning. And if you’re a business owner, okay, that one might not be for you. For others thinking about how you create a career plan two and three is how to work effectively, how to understand corporate culture, and how to fit in to an office with your co workers and understand your business from the different perspectives. Chapter Three is how to interview now we’ve all gone out and read articles on how to answer difficult interview questions. Have you actually ever been trained how to hire someone, we all do this, we get involved with hiring other people, especially owners, but no one ever sat down said here’s how to think about hiring them. So that’s section one, section two chapters on leadership and management. And here again, these skills, I address them for a fundamental level. It is not about being in an official leadership or managerial position. It’s not about title. It’s about these fundamental skills that help us be more effective. If you’re thinking I’m never going to be a manager. What you’re actually saying is I’m never going to take a managerial title, which is fine. Some of us do better at the individual contributor role, but you manage other people. If you’ve ever dealt with another coworker on a project. If you’ve ever dealt with someone difficult if you ever said hey, you know we have to get this done by Friday. How are we going to do this though? Are management skills that you use even if you don’t have a management title, so we look at the fundamental pieces of those skills. And then the third section is on interpersonal dynamics, that gets to communication, negotiation, networking and ethics skills we all need whether we’re a sole proprietor or a small business owner or an employee, we need this to be effective in our office and in our life. So we’ve got the book out there that really after decades of teaching this not just to MIT students, I’ve talked to people of all different backgrounds, all different ages, people doing career pivots, people with high school education, people with PhDs. These are universal skills that resonate. Well, before

Katie Brinkley 25:41

we finish up. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you about today, during today’s discussion that you think is important to share?

Mark Herschberg 25:46

On the website, there are additional resources that are free to download that includes an app. So it’s a free app to download. One thing that happens to me when I read books like this is I forget them a month later, I was great, I have so much to do, I don’t even know how to do it. So you can download the free app, it contains the tips that you get in the book. And so each day it just pops up. It’s like a daily affirmation that pops up one of the reminders to reinforce what you’ve learned. Or you can use if you’re about to say sit down in negotiation, pull it out, flip through the negotiation tips and get that crash refresher course, right before you go into it, for networking, negotiations, interviews, whatever. So you can download that there’s also a free download, if you want to build these skills, not just for yourself, but for your organization. There’s a free download how you can train your entire organization, your whole department or company, using a free resource there. You don’t even need my book to do it. You can use my book for it, but you don’t have to. It’s not me trying to sell your things. It’s me trying to help you.

Katie Brinkley 26:51

This is awesome. Thank you again so much for coming on the show. And I know the book is available on Amazon. It’s called the career toolkit and it’s it’s almost sold out. So if you’ve been if you if you like what what you heard today from Mark and some of the tips and advice he shared. I mean that was I don’t even want to say that it’s like a cookie bite of all the knowledge and tips that you will get out of this book. But go check it out before it does sell out. Or if it does sell out by the time you get there. Make sure you get on the waitlist for it. This has been great having you on Mark, thank you again so much for coming on the show today.

Mark Herschberg 27:24

Thank you for having me. If you want to get in touch with me the career Toolkit You can find out more information or again.

Katie Brinkley 27:33

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Rocky Mountain marketing. As always, I’d love to hear from you. You can visit my website at Connect with me on LinkedIn or check me out on Instagram. Let’s keep taking your marketing to new heights.