How to Manage Your Own Professional Development

Continuous learning is essential for effective leadership

Are you one of those managers who is always looking out for your team, helping them develop, encouraging them to build their skills, while putting your own development needs on the back burner?

Or do you seek out professional development opportunities for yourself as a break, a perk, a reward, a day away from the daily grind?

If you said yes to either of these, I’d like to challenge you to take your own professional development more seriously.

One of the keys to a successful career is continuous learning, forward planning and goal-setting, and also – when you’re a leader  – being aware that leadership itself is an ongoing journey where you never stop learning.

So, where to start in terms of managing your own professional development?

Do you already know the skills you need to learn or the attributes you need to improve? Rather than just going by your instincts or preferences, even better is to seek input from your own manager, your colleagues, and your staff. When was the last time you asked your boss, “how am I doing?” Depending upon the strength of your working relationship, if your boss is growth-oriented, a good coach and mentor, this could be a great place to begin your exploration.

Another great place to start is by looking at your most recent performance review. While this may just give you input from your direct boss, some companies use a 360 assessment, including input from colleagues and direct reports, too. When I provide a Leadership Skills Inventory assessment for my coaching clients, they have the option to add on a 360 assessment in order to receive a more in-depth picture of their strengths and areas for development.

It’s also important to view your development in terms of your career and where you want to go. If you’re planning to stay with your current employer and move up the ladder, you’ll want to look for specific areas to improve that are aligned with the company’s objectives and strategic plan. Or, perhaps you see limited growth opportunities and you’re not convinced that you’ll have a long-term future with the organization. In that case, give thought to where you would like to be in 2, 3 and 5 years from now, and develop your own strategic plan for growth.

Accepting feedback for growth and improvement

There’s a risk involved in asking people for feedback – you may not like what you hear. It can be hard to accept honest feedback, no matter how well-meaning. As Dr. Ellen Hendriksen writes:  “What do a medieval fortress, a balled-up porcupine, and a linebacker have in common? They’re all pros at getting defensive.” (How to Stop Getting Defensive – Learn graceful ways to cope with feeling defensive. Posted May 08, 2018 – Psychology Today) 

There is an art to being open to constructive feedback. Sometimes it can feel as though we are being judged and this makes us feel insecure, leading to a defensive or emotional response. The problem here is, that when you become defensive or emotional, you are closing your mind to opportunities for growth.

It may help to turn your feelings around if you remember that when someone gives you feedback aimed at helping you improve your skills, or your job performance, it’s because they believe in your abilities. So, see it as a compliment. Also, keep in mind that a  growth mindset is important for success in life – and this means being open to finding ways to improve.

Professional Development Planning

With all the learning resources available today through online courses, webinars, videos, blogs, part-time diploma and degree programs, as well as face-to-face training and individual coaching, it can be hard to choose which way to go to make the best use of your time and budget. A few pointers here:

  • Start with your biggest career goal – where do you want to be 5-10 years from now, and do you already have the qualifications you need to achieve this? Make a list of what you’ll need to reach the goal.
  • If your goal means that you need more credentials, focus most of your professional development activities towards achieving this. For example, some conference sessions or professional training can count towards formal qualifications.
  • Look at your time commitments and your budget and decide where your priorities lie. Revisit these priorities from time to time as circumstances change
  • Take advantage of low-cost and no-cost training opportunities – remembering that these are often provided as “on-ramps” to more in-depth, higher-value and higher-cost training – and can be a good way of trying out the training to see how well it suits you
  • When time is at a premium, consider how much time you can commit to learning: for example, maybe you can fit in a monthly, hour-long webinar, but not a part-time degree program that requires 10 hours per week.
  • As a leader, you have a great growth opportunity built into your role: that of developing others. Make sure you have a comprehensive training plan for every new staff member that you bring on board, use your expertise to train and coach your own team and mentor colleagues. 
  • Consider working with a coach, who will help you assess your needs, set development goals, and hold you accountable as you work towards those goals. Research shows there’s a huge return on investment when you work with a skilled and qualified coach.

I’d be happy to discuss your leadership development needs and how my coaching and training services may be able to help. Contact me for further details.

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