There are two types of workers out there. There are those who clock in, clock out, and go through the motions while collecting a paycheck. Then there are the hungry employees who seek professional development opportunities to move forward in their careers.
It’s easy to get complacent once you’ve been in a role for several months or a few years. Personal growth doesn’t just happen naturally, and many employers don’t do an adequate job of providing career development opportunities.
As such, it’s up to you to take professional development into your own hands if you want to continue your career growth and avoid stagnation. In this guide, we’ll show you what you can do to take control of your professional development and grow into the leader you have the potential to be.
What Is Professional Development?
Professional development is the process of expanding your skill set and becoming a more well-rounded leader. It’s a series of acquired soft and hard skills that help advance your career and set you apart from others in your company or industry.
Some say that the best approach to professional development is to garner on-the-job learning experiences and soak up as much knowledge as possible. However, emerging leaders take it one step further and seek out training, education, and other means to develop professionally outside of the day-to-day routine.
There will always be opportunities to grow and set an example for your peers and team members — either offered by your company or sought out on your own.
Companies that are ahead of the curve will offer professional development programs and leadership training to help you improve and advance your abilities. However, some employers brush aside professional development and don’t give it the time of day.
If your employer puts professional development on the back burner, you can still take the reins and figure out how you can grow on your own. So, where do you start?
What You Can Do to Develop Professionally
There are several steps you can take to jump-start your professional development efforts. You can implement some of these ideas immediately, while others will require more effort and time.
Consume professional content wherever possible
There’s highly valuable professional development content everywhere you look these days. Much of this content is free for you to consume, while some require a nominal fee.
Great leaders are always seeking out new and relevant content that can help them develop professionally. These learning opportunities can range from reading business publications, subscribing to podcasts, or partaking in applicable webinars.
For example, you could subscribe to any of these podcasts right now and start getting some information and inspiration about how you can grow into the leader you’d like to be. You can also subscribe to online publications like Harvard Business Review or Inc.
Seek out educational opportunities
Furthering your education will make you a more well-rounded employee and strengthen your resume. Obtaining a certificate or degree will not only boost your professional development, but it can be used as leverage if you’re looking for a raise or promotion.
You can approach continuing education in a few ways: Go through a formal degree program through a university or college, enroll in online courses, or look for training programs that are relevant to your industry.
Online education platforms like Coursera and Udacity are excellent sources to find online programs. They offer a range of certificates and degrees through some of the leading universities and businesses in the U.S.
Whichever route you choose, your efforts likely won’t go unnoticed. Going that extra step will show senior decision-makers at your company that you’re putting in the work to better yourself and become a more valuable employee.
Commit time for professional development
It’s easy to get stuck in the day-to-day grind. It may seem impossible, but do your best to set aside some time once a week or more to dedicate to professional development.
You can use this time to either learn new skills by completing a course or reflecting on your decisions and performance throughout the week.
Self-evaluation will help you determine what you did well and what you can improve. You can uncover opportunities for improvement by continually evaluating past performance. This will eliminate repeating past mistakes and make you a better leader in the long run.
The best leaders are self-aware and don’t shy away from their shortcomings. Instead, they acknowledge their weaknesses and look for ways to improve.
Seek feedback from team members
In some cases, it’s challenging to uncover areas of improvement on your own. That’s why turning to your peers and team members for feedback can be a valuable source of growth.
It may seem like a vulnerable position, but receiving honest feedback — both good and bad — will give you a different perspective of your work habits and leadership skills.
You may have thought that you were knocking it out of the park, but in reality, there were shortcomings your peers brought to light. On the flip side, you may have been doing something great, but you would have never known it if others didn’t point it out.
Your coworkers will respect the fact that you're actively reaching out to them for input. It will show them that you're concerned about your performance and how it affects them.
Find a mentor and/or become a mentor
Mentoring helps you progress in your career and allows you to give back to others. Think about finding a mentor you can learn from as well as a mentee to whom you can pass on valuable knowledge.
A mentor can be anyone who offers valuable insight. This could be current or previous managers or others within your organization who you admire and respect.
You don’t have to formally seek out a mentor by asking, “Hey, will you be my mentor?” It could be as simple as periodically setting up coffee meetings to catch up and discuss what’s going on in each other’s professional lives.
You can also pay it forward by helping those who may be looking for a mentor. Keep an eye out for those who would appreciate guidance and feedback. If your work has a mentorship program, consider joining as a way to pay it forward for a mentor who taught you at an earlier stage in your career.
Network with other leaders
You’re only as good as the company you keep. Why not surround yourself with other leaders in your industry? The more you network with professional leaders, the more you can learn from them and pick up on some of their effective approaches to business.
One way is to join professional learning communities where you can share knowledge among your peers. This can be done in-person or through an online network, such as LinkedIn.
Another way to broaden your network is to attend speaking engagements where you know other business professionals will be rubbing elbows.
You can even sign up to speak at one of these engagements if you have enough courage and something valuable to share with others. This would also establish yourself as a thought leader within your professional community.
Does Professional Development Matter If You’re Starting a Business?
The benefits of professional development also apply to those who are thinking about starting their own business. It’s critical that you continue to expand your management skills, stay up to date with current trends, and remain sharp to launch and grow a business successfully.
Consuming relevant content, receiving feedback from team members, and finding a mentor are all effective ways to develop professionally. What’s more, all of these steps apply to aspiring business owners.
There are plenty of entrepreneurship content and professional development courses you can find online by doing a quick Google search. You can also network with established business owners for inspiration and tips as you roll out your new business venture.
However, some of this can be quite time-consuming, especially when you need precious time planning your business. Instead, you could turn to a third-party for advice and support.
One way is to team up with Main Street, which provides a training program to eliminate uncertainties when launching your business and a built-in support team to provide guidance along the way.
It’s time to take your professional development seriously
Career development is an area that's easy to forget about. Many will go through the motions and not realize they've remained professionally stagnant. You must actively seek professional development opportunities if you want to continue advancing your career.
This also applies to those who want to start their own business. You'll need to put everything you have into starting your venture, which includes investing in yourself and your skill set. The more knowledge and experiences you have, the higher your chances of succeeding as an entrepreneur.
Main Street can provide the professional assistance needed to increase your chances of becoming a successful entrepreneur. Check out the Main Street program if you'd like to approach entrepreneurship with a team that has a track record of launching successful ventures.