How do you approach professional development?
October 4, 2019 6:53 AM   Subscribe

You take professional development and leadership development seriously: you understand how you need to develop yourself so you advance in your careers, you have goals, and you reach them. Explain it like I am five: how do you do this, what is your process, and what are your tools?

Maybe you use a coach, maybe mentors. You attend conferences, or trainings, or listen to podcasts, or read books, or watch a TED talk every morning. You participate in your professional society. You get drinks with friends in similar roles and trade advice. You network. You mentor more junior people, or you teach. Or you have a master’s degree – or two – or leadership certificates. Maybe a professional credential or two. Tell me how you do it: how have you built an approach to your professional development, what does it look like, what tools do you use to manage it?

I am a reasonably high performer at work. I get promoted. My bosses write strong reviews. Senior leadership holds me in (mostly) high regard. But I don’t feel good about the work I do – I don’t know if I can even really explain my key job responsibilities, my strengths, or a narrow set of goals to target (if I could improve X, Y, and Z skills, I would knock it out of the park).

I can share more details about my industry and role if specifics help, but I suspect hearing about your approach, dear self-reflective professional, will help regardless of industry.
posted by teragram to Work & Money (9 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
You don't need a coach. You need discipline. Develop a routine that works for you and your goals. Keep tweaking that routine slightly to try to make it better and do more. Always work on growing. Even when it is hard. For most people when things get hard then decided it's not worth it. But changing your mindset and growing as a person is a muscule. At the gym you are stressing and tearing your muscles in order to make them grow back stronger. Your mind is the same! Stay committed to the routines you've set up to help you grow. Even when it gets tough.

For me, I've found winning the morning a springboard for personal growth. I'm a professional blogger. And this is my daily routine.

2 A.M. Wake Up.

The first thing I do is chug a cold glass of water with Apple Cider Vinegar in it. Then go make my bed. And clean for 10 minutes. I keep moving to get the blood flowing.

For the next 20 minutes, I do some easy writing practice while drinking some coffee with a spoonful of coconut oil in it.

Once I am a little more awake. I take 5 minutes and visualize myself accomplishing my goals. I think about how I feel when problems or stress I am likely to have during the day. And visualize myself pushing through it.

I go right from visualization to 10 -15 minutes of mindfulness. (Headspace is a great app if you are starting out). Next I write about 10 things I believe about myself. 10 Things I am grateful for. And 10 things I want to accomplish in life.

Then I start writing for work. The point being my whole morning is about staying committed to this routine. Chugging apple cider and vinegar isn't easy in the morning. I also hate making my bed and cleaning. But they take less than 5 minutes and give me two victories right off the bat. And by the time I've gone through my morning routine I have a handful of victories for the day before starting work.

I write/edit or work on a project for the next 12 hours. (every hour my laptop screen shuts down for 2 minutes and I do push up, sit-ups, or lift light weights. )

I take a break at 7 to eat and walk the dog.

At 2 I'm done working. And I read or relax until 5:30. At 5:30 I go to the gym.

The rest of the night is dedicated to reading until 9 P.M. when I go to sleep. Sleep 5 hours and wake up and do it all again.

A lot of people don't understand what personal growth is, and isn't. It isn't doing one thing and having a massive life change. It is a lot of small processes that you are committed to. And carrying out daily discipline. That is where growth takes place.

posted by nomdicstephen at 8:19 AM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

I should clarify do this 6 days a week. Saturdays are my cheat day and Sundays are my day off. I break up cheat and off days for a few reasons. First, it means I can go have a few drinks with friends (without breaking my diet) on Saturday night since I don't have to wake up early on Sundays. I also the crap I eat on cheat day makes me feel sluggish the next day. So I make sure I don't work that day.
posted by nomdicstephen at 8:39 AM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm required by the state to do 20 CE hours every 2 years. I do way more than that. Our new 2 year period started July 1 and I think I have 15 hours done already. I frequently check our CE portal and look for new trainings. I sign up for things I think are interesting and applicable even if they aren't necessarily preschool related (I've done toddler and school age trainings). We have online CE opportunities and I take advantage of those. I try to use 1 weekend a month to do an online training.

I talk to other teachers about what they're doing. I recently asked for advice on how to handle a 3 year old with behavioral issues.

I'm always looking for new crafts or teaching ideas. I subscribe to a bunch of blogs and email lists.

What I don't do is pay for anything. My boss won't pay for a training. However, that's OK. There are plenty of free ones. I use free resources for teaching ideas. If I see something that's pay, I try to find an alternative or roll my own.

I'm very different from the other teachers at my center. They do the absolute minimum. I don't believe in that. Birth to 5 are some of the most important years of a child's life. I take my responsibility as an educator very seriously. That's my mind set and I do what I can to be the best teacher I can be.
posted by kathrynm at 8:46 AM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

If I'm doing well at my job and not seeing anything I'm actively interested in learning or improving, I don't do anything. I don't see the need to engage in professional development if there's nothing I care about developing; that would be making my work harder (because of the time suck) instead of better/easier.

If I identify something I think will be helpful, I research resources in that particular area. For me personally, reading is the best way for me to learn about things so most often that's what I end up doing. But if a training session looks more useful then I'll try to get my boss to send me to that.

(I avoid conferences when I can because I get less out of them than I do from reading the paper abstracts; networking is not an interest of mine and that seems to be their main purpose in my field.)
posted by metasarah at 9:23 AM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

What are the people that are maybe one or two steps ahead of you on your desired career path doing? What are some things they did to get there?
Social media can be useful (depending on your industry) to figure out what effective professional development looks like. In my industry it looks like coaching or training programs (the latter often provided by your employer), sometimes mentoring, and activities that increase your network either via public visibility or just general networking. Some industries prize getting an MBA or an advanced degree, some prize giving a Ted talk or writing a book or articles, some prize getting into leadership development programs offered by their employers. Look up and around and you'll probably start to see patterns of behavior for successful career-driven people.
posted by ch1x0r at 9:47 AM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Kind of a different perspective than those articulated above (except ch1x0r, on preview)...

When I decided I wanted to move from an ad hoc approach to professional development to something more thoughtful, I started by looking at the careers of more senior people in my organization/field who were already where I wanted to be:

What did they do to get where they are? What boxes did they have to check along the way? (getting a particular certification/degree? getting published? Working in a particular department and/or subfield? this will vary widely from industry to industry...) What can I do from where I am to check some of those boxes myself?

Whenever I had the opportunity to ask more senior personnel those kinds of questions, I did (which can also lead networking/mentoring relationships as well - yay!).

Once you have an idea of what things you need to do now to be where you want to be later, what next? Implementation. One of these senior leaders suggested to me that I look at my career in 5 year chunks. (Not saying that you have to do one particular thing for 5 years... just as a tool to examine the overall timeframe -- When you look at it that way, it offers surprising perspective... If you work from age 20 to age 70, that's only 10 chunks! Use them wisely!)

So, wherever you are in your career, how many of those time chunks do you have left, and how can you best check your boxes within the time you have left? THAT is the meat of your professional development plan... I need to check these boxes, and here's how I plan to do that, and here's when I need to do it. That plan, plus the relationships you build along the way, is what gets you to a focused, relevant, executable professional development plan.

And then, oh by the way, you pay forward all the time that those more senior personnel spent/are spending with you by mentoring junior personnel in your organization/field.

All of this is in addition to what I'd call "organic" development -- trading tips/tricks/best practices with work friends/counterparts, reading up and/or taking classes on specific skills/info that you need to do your current job, etc. I don't necessarily factor that into the framework I described above, because it's happening organically on a day to day basis throughout my career. If I thought I needed a kick in the pants to make those things happen, though, I would definitely fold them in to my overall plan as well.

Hope this helps.
posted by somanyamys at 9:48 AM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think this really depends on industry. That being said, I don't know if I'm a role model here, but something that works for me personally is seeking out as many opportunities to speak/present at conferences as I can. That serves a few outcomes:

- I have become a much stronger public speaker, which is always good
- I have become more confident in my areas of expertise, because I have to explain/interpret/teach them to other people and answer questions regularly
- I have gained reputation in my field, which hopefully will translate into more opportunities when I decide to move on from my current job
- I get more media inquiries, which I can use as a metric of overall performance
- I don't have to do BS networking small talk at conferences, because people interested in the same things as me saw me speak and probably came up and gave me their card afterwards (THE BEST PART)

I usually just get invited to speak on panels, but some conferences accept session proposals. You might be able to achieve something similar that requires less travel by submitting written content to journals/sites of interest, or by serving on advisory boards or committees. This is just what works for me and my particular preferences and line of work. My job doesn't have any certifications, CE requirements, or similar, which would probably shape your needs more. YMMV.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 9:48 AM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've been in engineering management 30+ years and mentored many folks during my career. I have a "simple minded development planning process" which consists of figuring out what you (might) want to do next, figuring out what one thing you could work on to bring you closer to that goal, and work on that for the next 6-12 months.

I have seen people get totally flummoxed trying to make SMART development plans to the extent that they never got a plan. Or, they have a plan, but never "find time" to do it.

I look at my "career security" -- what have I done? what have I learned? who have I worked with? Hopefully this stays relevant to my current employer, but if not, it is my resume and job hunting network for the next job.

For example, at one point in my career, I thought I wanted to be a general manager with P&L responsibility for a business. I was an engineering director reporting to a general manager, and when I looked at his responsibilities, the things I didn't think I was good at, didn't think I knew how to do, or didn't think I would enjoy -- well, those were what the director of marketing was doing full time. I didn't want to become a GM only to fail or hate it, so when the marketing director position was vacated (due to my colleague's promotion), I asked for and got the lateral transfer. I did that job for 2 1/2 years -- I learned a lot and some of it I enjoyed, but at the end of the day, I realized I loved engineering and managing engineers and their projects. I'm now happily employed as a senior director of engineering (in a hot field because I'm still thinking about career security) and hope to retire out of my current company.

Hope this helps!
posted by elmay at 1:41 PM on October 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I read want ads for higher-paying jobs in my field and then work towards developing those qualifications.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:24 PM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

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