Last week’s post on looking after yourself in the workplace got quite a number of responses, and it got me thinking about what else we should be doing as leaders for ourselves, not just for the people who work with us.
How many of us, for example, have ever really made an investment in our own careers, outside of what’s provided for us by the organisations we work for? Not many I suspect. How many of us have looked at courses and seminars and thought how useful they would be for a member of our team, instead of considering whether it would be good learning for us to attend instead? Sometimes we become so blinkered that our focus ends up being all about supporting our teams in their professional development rather than looking inwards to see how we can develop. And if you think about it, investing in our own development can only ultimately benefit those who look to us to lead, mentor and help them build their careers.
I think it’s partly bred into us, this view of ourselves as supporting others rather than looking at what we personally need to help us achieve our potential, but also perhaps a little learned helplessness where we rely solely on the companies we work for to spot what we need and supply it, rather than ourselves. Does it feel a little like rejection or disloyalty to say “no, what I would really like is…x”, I wonder? Last but not least, for some people there’s a reluctance or an inability (we all have mouths to feed) to invest in ourselves, feeling that it truly is the responsibility of the organisations we are employed by to help us to develop.
Like most things in life, we probably need a little bit of everything when it comes to professional development. Many agencies and agency networks, large and small, have excellent professional development programmes available to people at all stages of their careers and it would be wrong not to take up what is so readily offered. As an entrepreneur building my business (before acquisition) I didn’t realise how much I had missed out on that kind of professional development, so I commend it – just not as the only tool to help you grow your skills.
A number of forward-looking companies provide leadership and business coaches, also incredibly worthwhile, although some people feel uncomfortable that the coach is retained by their employer. To be fair, it would be highly unprofessional for a coach to share anything that they hadn’t discussed and agreed with you first, but if you’re worried about that, see if you can find your own coach outside of the business. You might be surprised that it isn’t as expensive as you think, and we all benefit from a sounding board whether company provided or not.
Reading widely helps. I don’t just mean subscribing to your industry journal, I mean going beyond it to things like the Harvard Business Review as well as keeping an eye out for books about business that might challenge your thinking. Setting aside a small budget for business subscriptions and books each year isn’t going to be a huge investment and you can share them with your senior teams too, to help broaden everybody’s thinking.
And when you’re looking at conference attendances, don’t neglect your own learning – you might be surprised what you pick up if you go beyond conferences closely linked to your own business sector. As an example, some years ago I went to a one-day course run by John Seddon based around the manufacturing industry and focused on the benefits of moving away from the traditional “command and control” way of managing businesses and towards a systems-thinking model. It had a profound effect on how I operated as a leader and yet it had absolutely nothing to do with healthcare communications, running agencies or the pharmaceutical industry.
The jobs we do are not easy, they can be all-encompassing so we owe it to ourselves to make sure we’re developing our own skills to the max in order to operate at the highest level we’re capable of. You know what I’m going to say, don’t you (said the quizzical chicken in this week’s photo)? Take a clear look at your plans for the next year – now’s the time for budget-setting after all – and make sure there’s enough room in there for some professional development for you alongside whatever you’ve got planned for your people. Let me know how it goes.