Professional Development Goals

We recently took a look at some data answering the question Why is Professional Development Important?... I wrapped up then by emphasizing that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach and promised to work through some things each of us need to consider as we’re moving down our own growth path. But before I cover a few examples, let’s be sure we’ve all got the right thought process. Without that, the rest may not even matter…

More than a century ago, James Allen said that “people are anxious to improve their circumstances but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.” Oh my goodness! What if Mr. Allen was around to see the mess we’re dealing with today… 

All too often, folks want to be respected as a leader before they take full responsibility for leading. But that’s not where it stops! How often have you heard someone say that they’d be willing to take on new tasks if their employer would pay them more? Much like farming, that’s just not how I’ve ever seen the process work… There’s this whole thing of sowing first so we have a chance to reap later.

I was one of forty new full time employees who was hired to work in a manufacturing company in March of 1996. While I didn’t have any manufacturing experience, I was pretty good at working with my hands and I was intent on trying to outperform whoever I was around. Being willing to work harder and longer than most folks served me well to a certain point, but it wasn’t long until hard work alone just wasn’t going to take me any farther. The challenge was that I had no idea what else I would need to do. I started grasping at straws, taking a class here or reading a book there, hoping that something would click.

In the opening chapter of The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, The Law of Intentionality, John Maxwell told me how ineffective that approach really is when he said that “working hard doesn’t guarantee success and hope isn’t a strategy.” It’s a shame he hadn’t written that yet when I was fumbling around, trying to figure out how to reach that next level of effectiveness. 

Over the last several years, I’ve heard John teach frequently on what he calls his “Rule of Five,” detailing the five things he’s sure to do every single day. I won’t go into what his five things are here - that’s not the point. What he emphasizes each time he shares that story is the importance of being very intentional about defining the key things we each need to do on a daily basis in order to reach that next level we’re aiming for. And whether it’s in a certain area of our personal life or it’s specific to our professional development goals, even the best plan will yield limited results unless we invest the energy up front in doing one very specific thing!

You Can’t Hit What You Can’t See

Before digging into how we set our Professional Development Goals, I challenged you to think about Why is Professional Development Important?. We have to be very honest with ourselves when we’re considering either; we need to have a clear picture of what we’re hoping to achieve or any of the effort we put in will only have a limited impact - at best!

About six years ago, I was on a call with a guy who owns one of the largest landscaping and irrigation companies in South Florida and he was sharing some ideas on how to approach professional development in a way that truly delivered the best possible return on investment. That really got my attention. I had recently accepted a position with a different company after nearly two decades with the same one. I had worked extremely hard in every role I held to that point and I had also invested in nearly every type of professional development resource I could afford (I was paying for almost all of it out of pocket). While I had earned some pretty good opportunities, I wasn’t where I had hoped to be by that point in my career. I knew I was missing something…

One of the questions Scott asked me during that call was, “What do you really, really want?” I thought I had an answer but each time I tried, he pushed back by asking me WHY I wanted that particular thing. The concept wasn’t new; I had been through some in depth training on the 5 Why Methodology as it relates to incident investigation and problems solving, but this time it was focused on me! He challenged me to define what I wanted most, the real reason I was even considering doing any of the work I had been doing to develop myself professionally. He said that once I had that defined, I would absolutely have to begin picturing the end result I was working toward in my mind clearly - with the same level of specificity (he really used that word!) that I had when I thought about the shirt I had on right that moment or what I had eaten most recently. He told me that when I had goals that were this clear in my mind, every action I took toward reaching those goals would have more impact!

Think about it… If we start taking classes but don’t have a plan for what we’re hoping to learn, we’re not very likely to complete a degree - and maybe not even any given course. If we start going to the gym but don’t have any specific goals, we’ll probably see some incremental improvements over time, assuming we keep going, but there’s just no way that we’ll achieve as much as we would if we could by having clarity about the end result we’re working for.

This same idea applies in every area of our lives, including professional development! When we invest the time and energy on the front end to develop absolute clarity about the goals we want to achieve, we can build a plan that matches those goals and we can put so much more focus on that end result as we’re doing the work. That specificity Scott challenged me to develop as I mapped out my goals was critical in helping me make sure every action I took tied back to the result I was hoping to achieve. Any ole action wasn’t getting me there. Specific action would so let’s dig into some ways we can identify those specific actions...

Not Just Busy; Effective!

Are you busy? That’s a stupid question, huh! We all are… If you’re anything like me, there are times where you feel like there’s just not another second in your day to squeeze in one more thing.

But are you getting the results you’re after? Are you productive?

Let’s be honest with ourselves here, being busy and being effective are two very different things!

Whose face comes to mind when you really consider this? I immediately think of a few different folks I know who constantly seem to be putting out fires but never reach any of the goals they’re working toward. They’re incredibly busy, but it would be a pretty big stretch to describe them as productive…

In complete transparency, I’ve fallen into that scenario myself far more than I care to admit. My DRIVEN approach to nearly everything tends to result in me taking on just about any task that falls within reach and going at it full speed ahead until it’s done or I pass out. But that has derailed me from the results I was really after almost every time! And taking on too much just for the sake of being busy can impact us that same way in nearly any area of our lives.

Once we invest the time and energy into setting some professional development goals and we’ve worked to build clarity around what we want to achieve, we need to be extremely intentional about determining the specific action steps we need to take on a routine basis that make a tangible impact on our progress toward those goals! This often requires building systems into our schedules that support consistent action on those steps we’ve defined. And while we’ll probably never be able to push every single distraction aside, having clarity about our goals and action steps will certainly help us recognize those distractions when they arise.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not suggesting that we’ll never have to move away from even the best system to deal with a distraction; that’s just not how life works. But understanding what specific action steps are moving us toward our professional development goals will definitely help us keep from getting too far off track when a distraction has to be dealt with…

Taking massive action and being busier than anyone around us won’t guarantee we reach those goals. But determining the specific action steps we each need to take in order to achieve what we’re working toward, then getting busy with massive action on those things can!

If you're ready to start setting your own clear and specific professional development goals, you may want to look into a 14 Day Trial to our Leading At The Next Level program. Not only will that give you access to more than 65 hours worth of digital lessons, each is followed by an action-based assessment that challenges you to define what you can apply immediately and detail the specific result you're hoping to achieve as you make it part of your routine!

Click the program image to look through a Table of Contents sheet that provides a list of lesson titles and a brief summary of that to expect from each. Participants also get access to two live sessions monthly with the opportunity to engage in Q&A and interact with other members! And by the way, each of the lessons have been approved for continuing education credit through the Society for Human Resource Management and the Human Resource Certification Institute.

What's this Program All About?

Initially created as an ongoing resource for those who had completed our Emerging Leader Development course, this Leading At The Next Level program now offers several dozen lessons so individuals and organizations can be very intentional about creating strategic, ongoing personal and professional development plans. With topics ranging from strategic leadership development to effective workplace communication and improving employee engagement by building a strong organizational culture, you're sure to find a lesson that addresses nearly any challenge you're facing in your workplace today.

Disclaimer: This material is for educational use only. You alone are responsible for implementing the steps necessary to become an effective leader at each new level in your career. While we will share things that we've seen make an amazing impact in numerous organizations, we can't take action for you. By registering for this or any of our courses, you accept complete and total responsibility for taking action to apply what we share in your own role and for making a positive impact on each individual you lead!