Take Charge of Your Professional Development

Reasons or Excuses?

Blog 1023 - Take charge dart imageIf you are waiting for your organization, your manager or some guardian angel at work to figure out your career path, take notice: waiting won’t help. The driver of your professional development has to be you. You might be thinking:

  • I don’t know what I want to do.
  • I don’t know what my options are.
  • Isn’t my manager supposed to tell me what’s next?
  • I thought HR was supposed to lay out a career progression.
  • We have a great leadership development program, but I haven’t been chosen for it.

Here’s the problem: even if you have the most spectacular boss, no one can tell you what career path is the right one to pursue other than you. Therefore, you have to drive down the road to see for yourself.

If you’re waiting for someone to give you permission to take charge, consider it done. Permission granted.

Here’s what I recommend:

  1. LAY THE GROUNDWORK
    1. Increase your visibility
      It’s important to be visible and accessible to others in the organization, particularly people in other functions as well as senior managers. Visibility helps increase credibility.
    2. Build networks throughout the enterprise and beyond.
      Building networks applies both to short and long-term business requirements. It means finding out who are the critical individuals – at all levels – and looking for ways to interact with them. Read a great article or listened to a great speech? Contact the author. Contact the speaker.
    3. Build and manage relationships continuously.
      Building personal relationships has to be a priority and a way of doing business. Take full advantage of face-to-face interactions. This is both about “winning friends and influencing people.”
  1. CREATE DEVELOPMENTAL GOALS
    1. Take the time to think about your experiences. What excites you? What are you good at? What stretches you in such a way that sharpens your capabilities?
    2. If you have an opportunity for a 360-degree feedback process, take advantage of it. It’s great information for you to know how others see you. Think about your results on assessments you have used, like DISC or Strengths Finder. There’s no right or wrong, just who you are, what comes easiest to you, what’s more challenging, etc. So, how do you make sense out of this and what do you do?
    3. Craft one or two professional development goals to accomplish in the next 12 months. Make them as specific and measurable as possible (“SMART” goals).
  1. TAKE OWNERSHIP FOR DEVELOPMENT DISCUSSIONS WITH YOUR MANAGER
    1. Perhaps you have written development goals as part of your performance review. Maybe there is a succession plan for you. Even if this is the case, I strongly recommend that YOU take charge of these discussions with your manager. Good managers and leaders are good coaches, and they will respect the fact that you’re taking initiative. After all, it is your future.
    2. Create a context for where you’re headed as part of these discussions. Be prepared to discuss your immediate development objectives in terms of the bigger picture for where you are headed and why this is important to you.
    3. If your manager is not inclined or interested in helping you, then find someone in the organization you respect. Use that person as a sounding board. Empower that person to tell you more about their professional development including what they thought and felt along the way. Benefit from their stories. Be prepared to tell your own. Ask for feedback and suggestions. Use their advice and counsel to chart a direction, your direction.
  1. IDENTIFY OPPORTUNITIES AND BE OPPORTUNISTIC
    1. Use your networks, your manager or other leaders in the organization to actively identify development and growth opportunities. These may not fall within your own department or function, but they may fit within the goals and direction you are pursuing.
    2. Take advantage of rotational assignments if they exist. And if they don’t exist? Do some homework, identify the opportunities and sell it to your manager. Go for it!
    3. Sometime opportunities just pop up. If they can build your skill sets and experience along your roadmap, then take advantage of them. Somewhere in this scenario is a great Yogi Berra quote: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
  1. SHOW SOME CHUTZPAH
    1. Chutzpah is a Yiddish word for audacity or boldness. It’s being gutsy. By taking ownership for your professional development, you have to be bold in creating opportunities and paths that may not currently exist. You have to take initiative and step up to situations that stretch your capabilities. You have to be willing to promote yourself without arrogance or condescension. Frame in the context of the bigger picture – what you gain and how the business benefits. It’s your career, and it’s much too valuable to leave in the hands of other people.
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