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How to start professional development

How to start your professional development - airport test

You decided to step into the people leader role. There is a good chance, however, you still have been helping your team with daily operations. At some point, you noticed that to accomplish all things that are on your plate, your day would need to have 26 hours. You may even look to time management technics, just to find out that you cannot manage time. You can only control yourself in time. Maybe it is a good moment to shift the focus? It is time to let the team run with daily operations and start to learn a new role. But how to start your professional development as a leader?

There is no one right way to start learning. As leaders, we have to learn new tools for our leadership craft. And as with any other craft we need to adapt, learn to use existing tools, combine them together and sometimes create our own. This is what I am going to present in this post, it will be a compilation of some existing tools that I have learnt and their implementation to my journey in the leadership path.

Before you start, check your “why” 💭

As usual, it is good to understand why you want to change. I believe if you decided to get serious about professional development, there are some underlying values and principles that you follow. You want to be a better leader. You want to serve better to your organisation. And most importantly, you want to help others to grow.

Whatever it is, it’s good to write it down and be conscious of it. It will help you when there is a first crisis. And it is a matter of when, not if, the first crisis will come. This underlying “why” will be your motivation, your compass, and your way forward on your path to be the better you.

Self-assessment 📑

It is nothing new. I wrote about it when I reviewed one of the books that impacted me the most. Jesuits used this as one of their pillars while defining Heroic Leadership. We need to start with an honest assessment of where we are. What is our baseline?

To do it, I propose a combination of a couple of tools.

The first one is called the Wheel of life.

The Wheel of life 🟢

In fact, it is a variation of the original one. In the original one, you name a few categories in your life that are important to you. People usually come up with something similar to family, health, various relationships, spiritual development, finance, personal development and so on.

The idea is to write them down on one sheet of paper and score them between 1 and 10. In the ideal situation, there is a few of them (5 or 6), and they are all scored 10. So the visual representation is a kind of wheel.

The quadrant of work 🟩

We are going to perform the variation of this exercise. Let’s come up with categories that are the most important for your role as a leader. Let’s narrow them down to a maximum of four. The reason for the smaller number is that we don’t want to overwhelm ourselves with too many aspects and too many tasks to cover at the same time.

These were four categories when I did this exercise for the first time:

  • a stable relationship with my manager
  • delegation of tasks to my team
  • building a highly efficient team in a remote environment (including how to hire for remote work)
  • improve communication skills with written and spoken language to help with team visibility

What I need to improve? 🤔

Try to make your own list, ask yourself what and why it is essential. If you come up with more than four items on that list, try to check if they are in the same broader category, try to prioritise them and check if there are dependencies. Maybe by working on one, you will help with some other items from your list. Try to keep the number low.

Now, when you have a list, it’s time for probably the most important and the most challenging part – the actual self-assessment. We will need to grade ourselves from 1 to 10 for each category. To help you with that part, I am going to propose another tool. I borrowed it from the book “Will it fly?” by Pat Flynn.

The airport test ✈️

Imagine that you are at the airport. We are in five years in the future from now. You are waiting for your flight, and you have a few hours to kill. While you wandering around, trying to find some quiet spot to sit and figure out what to do when suddenly you spotted your old friend.

You have not seen each other for a long time, but it is one of those connections, that are easy to rebuild as you have strong bonds. You sit down together in a quiet cafe place, started sipping coffee and talk.

  • “So, how is life?” – Your friend is asking.
  • “Life is perfect!” – You reply.
  • “Last time we spoke, you told me you wanted to become a people leader, is that right?” – He or she continues.
  • “Ah yes, it was almost five years ago. You know I actually did, a short time after our conversation. And I am telling you, it’s awesome.” – You start your story.
  • “What is so awesome about it? Tell me more!” – Your friend is asking, eager to hear more from you.

The future you, the better you 😀 😃

And this is when you go through your list of categories that you identified as necessary to work on. Remember, it is five years from now. There is a good chance that all four of them are already developed and scored 10 in your self-assessment list. You start going through them.

  • “You know, I realised that building a solid relationship with my boss is going to be crucial. It was not easy. There was usually ego standing on our path to succeed in this area, but as soon as I realised it, it got improved. We have a great relationship today. He trusts me when it comes to executing the plan for my group. I trust him that he represents our team to up the chain of command. And what is most important, we have a great report, not only on a professional level but thanks to that fact that we meet regularly face to face, we managed to build the relationship to goes beyond the work”.

What would it be if everything was excellent? 👍

Then your friend is asking about something else, and you go to the next point from your list and try to explain why it is fantastic. I think you got the point. In this exercise, you will try to imagine what would it be if all four categories were scored 10 out of 10. This is going to be your aspirational goal. The goal is set up by yourself, no one else. Don’t be shy, you want to be creative, and you want to allow your gut feeling to tell you what is possible.

There is one more very interesting thing about this imaginary conversation. The primary goal to run this exercise is to set the high bar where you want to be with a particular category. But you will also start finding how to get there. Write it down, it will help you with the next steps, which is going to be creating an action plan.

How to start your professional development – step by step 📈

  • Start with “why” you want to develop, what is your driver, what is your motivation. Write it down. It will help you in lower moments, when you may question your ability to get better.
  • Think about a few categories that are important to you, and you would like to improve in your new role. Think from different perspectives. Write down all of them. The list may be prolonged. Categorize all items. Prioritize them. We should come up with ideally four categories. It will help to keep things realistic and achievable.
  • Come up with the best scenario for each category that you could achieve in 5 years. Talking to your imaginary airport friend may help to get your head around it and to actually help driving a foundation of the plan.
  • Perform self-assessment. You know how 10/10 looks like in five years, but how does it look today? Don’t worry if it’s low. It supposed to be. You are new in the role. It may be the consequence of the more significant reorganisation. You may have a brand new boss. Your scores could be 1-2 all over the places. Good! It means more learning and learning from scratch, rather than undoing bad habits.

Good luck! Your team will benefit from the self-aware leader, that is keen on improving, and what’s the most important – you are doing it for yourself. Satisfaction guaranteed!

Useful links 🌐

Cover photo: Waiting for a connection flight in Sydney, Australia 🇦🇺 2015

Do you have your journey of learning your new role? What tools have you used? How did you start your professional development?

Thanks for reading!

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2 thoughts on “How to start professional development”

  1. I liked this post and have been noodling on similar concepts recently myself. “The reason for the smaller number is that we don’t want to overwhelm ourselves with too many aspects and too many tasks to cover at the same time.” –> IMHO, I agree and like how you highlighted building a strong relationship with your manager and setting priorities. I could see you building out this blog post as future modules. For instance, what things you’ve seen improve as you’ve tried on these concepts such as asking why.

    1. Thank you 🙏 for your comment. Yes, this blog will grow with me. I am gathering some feedback from my readers and I will try to structure my blog posts in a way that are easier to consume.

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