Develop or Become Obsolete: Part II – Your Professional Development

“Develop or Become Obsolete!” was the rally cry of a former HR executive during a season of intense organizational change. It was his way of encouraging us to become greater than we ever imagined.  As stated in my last post,  this quote has become a foundation of what I believe it takes for business professionals (or athletes, for that matter) to remain competitive and successful contenders at the top of their game over time.  We must continually learn, develop, grow and expand our skill sets, so that we may not only keep up with our customer demands, but also outpace our competition.

My coaching clients are typically focused on development in one (or a combination) of four domains: Personal, Professional, Leadership or Business. Today we will continue this four-part series with a focus on Professional Development.

Professional Development

No matter what role we play in society or position we take in business, our jobs require us know and do certain things, even beyond the technical skills. To be successful in any kind of business, we must learn how to have intelligent business conversations, make decisions, negotiate contracts, deliverables and timelines, manage projects, run meetings, develop and deliver presentations, and sell our products. We must learn the business of conducting business.

For example, when we teach interns to become professional employees, the key differentiators are communication, teamwork and influencing skills. There are fundamental skills that professionals must learn without exception, and then there are the professional skills that truly differentiate one person from the rest. We expect our employees not only to show up, deliver results and submit reports. We also expect them to build rapport with stakeholders and customers, communicate with management and team members, and influence colleagues without authority. At first, some of these professional skills might seem awkward or unnatural. But the reality is those who develop mastery in these “soft skills” receive more recognition and promote faster. Moreover, these are the professionals who get invited by leaders to participate in mentoring, interesting projects, both developing their capability and accelerating their success.

The same is true in any profession. 

There are technical skills, and there are the key differentiators. What are the skills that truly set people apart from the competition in your field of expertise?

One of the most frequently asked questions I hear sounds something like this, “I need to add a professional development goal to my plan. What classes or workshops are coming up?”  Now, I like promoting my workshops as much as anyone. But classroom or traditional learning is only the seed. What matters most comes after the workshop: How is the seed fostered, watered, and nourished to grow? How is the new learning reported back to the team, applied on the job or given feedback?  What follow up support do you need to ensure growth of your newly developed skills?

The most often cited learning goal I hear is the need to develop presentation (or public speaking) skills. Of course, the research shows fear of public speaking is among the top 5 greatest fears people report (usually up there with death, spiders and snakes).  However, the good news is skills can be learned.  When clients ask me, “How do I develop public speaking skills?” Guess what I tell them. The best way to learn presentation skills is to give presentations.  They hate it. But they know it’s true.  So I recommend Toastmasters or Rotary clubs or other opportunities to stand up, express a thought and receive feedback.  In our Powerful Presentations workshops, participants will profile their audience, develop the message content, practice delivering the presentation, and receive feedback, including a video recording. Practice is vital.

Suggestions for Professional Development:

  • Read a book or subscribe to audio books. Not only do you learn interesting information, hear fascinating stories, but also you are developing a stronger vocabulary as a secondary benefit!
  • Take a class (or webinar). One tremendous benefit of being a knowledge worker society is we have access to more wonderful learning opportunities and experiences than we might have ever imagined.  Peruse our workshops on Powerful Presentations, Creating Your Brand, Leading in Times of Change, and the Ultimate Career Makeover to name a few. Follow me on social media for a plethora of suggested programs.
  • Check out your local Small Business Administration,  Chamber of Commerce or professional associations for additional offerings.
  • Tell your colleagues what you learned and ask them to give you feedback. For participants in my Powerful Presentations workshop, they must ask someone to observe them in meetings and give feedback when they present. This can be done with many different professional skills. This is particularly effective when experimenting or practicing new techniques.
  • Consider how you will apply new skills in your current job.  Post reminders around your workspace to prompt new thinking, new behaviors, and new habits.
  • Identify motivators. Be very clear about how this new skill will raise your game.  Tell people.
  • Find a mentor.  Identify someone who exemplifies the skill. Watch them. Ask them questions, observe their behavior and apply what works for you to your own situation.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice.  I played softball through college, and my dad would say, “What you do in practice is what you will do in the game. Make it count.”
  • Hire a coach. Elite athletes do it. Executive leaders do it. Sometimes only the coach is able to provide feedback that other stakeholders may not be willing or able to give. When performance is important enough to succeed, it’s worth the investment.
  • Don’t miss our special self-paced online Courage, Risks and Rewards Program, which we are offering at a special low price through the month of February.

Next time, I will continue the discussion with a focus on Leadership Development. Meanwhile, stay connected with us on social media, enroll in a workshop, contact us with your suggestions and feedback, or schedule a Complimentary Coaching Consultation to determine which solution best fits your needs.

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