Don’t stand still: why you need to take charge of your own professional development.

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Do you love your job?

According to a recent Gallup survey, probably not. It turns out that a whopping 71% of Americans aren’t really engaged in their work. I recently wrote about the four keys to happiness in your job and I am wondering why are so few employees engaged at work?

My guess is that most employees’ need for professional and personal development simply isn’t being met. Research indicates we humans have a desire for achievement and psychological growth: employees want to learn new things and master new skills, which in turn will enable them to make more of an impact.

Unfortunately, most companies are doing far too little to encourage the growth and development of their staff, which means that as an employee, you yourself need to take matters into your own hands. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own career path and the skills you learn along the way.

And this continuous self-development isn’t just good for your job satisfaction; it’s also vital for your career. In today’s turbulent and competitive job market, keeping one’s skillset up to date is simply a necessity. A friend and former colleague, Jaleh Bisharat, said it best: “the most important skill in the workplace today, is the ability to learn more skills.”

So how can you best help yourself to develop and grow? Here are a few key strategies I’ve found to be useful:

  • Go beyond your comfort zone. Stretching yourself beyond your current capabilities can only stimulate personal growth. Take on more responsibility than you think you can handle, or tackle a tough problem you doubt you can solve. Or better yet, do both: solve lots of tough problems at a high frequency. It’s a great way to learn and whatever happens, you’ll be stronger and wiser for the experience.
  • Surround yourself with people you can learn from. If you need to immerse yourself in a new topic or area, there’s no faster way to do this than to spend time with people who are already experts. For example, when I was new to selling technical products, I started by taking an engineer or product manager to lunch so I could learn about their work and the product first-hand. This helped me to quickly come up to speed on a topic I knew relatively little about. This is also good practice to develop your listening skills along the way showing in others and talking less.
  • Read as much as you can. Have you ever been envious of an over-achieving coworker or friend who always seems to have the latest cutting-edge information on everything? Their secret is probably quite simple: they read a lot. In fact, many business gurus from Warren Buffett to Steve Jobs, have shared this habit because it has helped them constantly learn and grow. But these days, who has the time to read as much as they’d like? I’ve been watching less TV at home and using Blinkist to listen to non-fiction audio books during my commute. Blinkist condenses the key insights of great nonfiction books into easy 15-minute reads and audio recordings.
  • Finally, don’t forget to cultivate your social network. Too many people focus on networking only within their professional sphere. This leads to a very narrow pool of people they can learn from, which in turn results in narrow expertise. Don’t make this mistake. Rather, ensure you also network outside of work to meet people with a wider range of backgrounds – you’d be surprised at what they can learn by opening yourself up to networking.

These four simple strategies can help you grow personally and professionally even if your company hasn’t had the wisdom to support employees in this sphere. The result is not only increased job satisfaction but also a more competitive skill set, both of which will help you advance on your career.

What strategies work for you?

Categories: Polaris

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