Whether required or desired, Professional Development is pressing in the minds of both employers and their employees. And then, questions abound! How do you determine where to start? Should you seek formal or informal development opportunities? What is the objective? Answering these questions and more, prior to starting this journey, is essential to remaining focused on achieving the objectives you decide upon. Like any endeavor, planning is essential, and knowing the desired destination can smooth the path along that journey. When ancillary options arise, they can simply be pointed back to the end objective and either added to the current process or discarded.

First, let’s understand the difference between professional development and career management.  Professional development is the sharpening of general soft skills such as conflict management, courageous conversations, or strategic planning that are crucial to any good leader’s skill set. This can happen via coursework, networking, and other venues. On the other hand, career management involves setting goals for advancement that take into account job title, company, and more. Professional Development is often seen as a piece of career management.

So, let’s get started by discussing four simple steps that you can take to get started down the path of Professional Development:

1. Analyze where you currently are

Start your professional development journey by understanding your current situation. It can be difficult to take an introspective look at yourself, so remember that it’s ok to ask for help and seek a professional service for this step. If you choose to handle this step on your own, be true and fair to yourself. You will need to ask some rigorous questions to pinpoint specific areas of opportunity–and remember, no one will see these answers! The more accurate the answers, the better your plan will be, and ultimately, the better your results will be.

2. Identify the gaps you want to shore up

Gaps can be intrusive, but not if you think of them as areas of opportunity. Once you analyze your current situation and decide where you want to go, identify the key themes that run between those areas. This will lead you to the courses and professional development opportunities you need to seek. Better presentation skills could be achieved through public speaking groups. Strategic thinking could be expanded upon by seeking out a volunteer leadership opportunity. Oftentimes, surrounding yourself with different people other than coworkers and familiar professional contacts can free your thinking to grow in the areas you wish.

3. Devise a plan to get there

Plan. Plan. Plan. Just like with any process, it is essential to be intentional in the actions you take to tackle any objective. Devising a plan that identifies specific steps that are decided upon ahead of time cuts down on decision making time. So, do your research while devising your plan to tie up any loose ends, and remember to keep some flexibility to accommodate unforeseen obstacles and opportunities.

4. Assign accountability steps

Once you have a plan, build in accountability steps to keep yourself motivated. Research shows that creating a measurable goal increases the chances for success over a goal that isn’t as specific.


Congratulations on getting started down the path of professional development.  No matter how old we are, we can always learn. Enjoy!

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