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Management Nine easy ways to take charge of your professional development

Good leaders should offer their employees support and direction, setting clear goals and targets, giving regular feedback, and offering concrete tools and suggestions for future growth and development. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Usually citing lack of time and other resources, the one piece that tends to slip most often is advice and emphasis on continued learning and professional development.

But if you have aspirations to progress and flourish in your career, you’re not going to get there unless you invest in broadening and deepening your expertise and experience. Which means that you shouldn’t sit back and wait for training and leadership growth opportunities to fortuitously appear. It’s up to you to take control of your own continuing professional development. It’s about you – your needs, your desires, your goals and your gaps. So, what can you do to take charge?

First, keep in mind that professional development is not so much training as it is a state of mind. A philosophy of continuous learning is not restricted to sitting in a classroom. In today’s connected world, there are so many ways to access knowledge that the real skill is not accessing information, but rather filtering what you’ve obtained from a variety of sources and applying it.

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Start by establishing the gaps: Compile a list of competencies needed for the position you’re in as well as those you want. Competencies are the skills, abilities and knowledge needed to be successful in a particular role. Whether it’s technical knowledge or interpersonal skills, a targeted approach can also lead to more informed conversations with your immediate supervisor.

Read more: Not just about your area of expertise, but also about current events and subjects that are outside your day-to day responsibilities. When you read widely, you bring alternate perspectives to commonplace issues.

Ask to job-shadow: It’s an easy and low-risk way to learn. If your organization doesn’t have a formal program, just reach out to someone you’d like to shadow and see if they’re willing. If not for an entire day, perhaps they’d agree to let you buy them lunch while you ask questions.

Attend formal courses: This old standby still works. But don’t just look at in-person training, evaluate online learning as well. Look at options, consider the costs and benefits, and discuss it with your manager. Ask if your organization has professional development dollars to support your attendance.

Get mentors: Seek out those who have accomplished what you aspire to. Thoughtfully build relationships with those who will offer you honest feedback and different perspectives, both within and outside your organization. If you find yourself facing changing times or challenging situations, a mentor can bolster your confidence and resilience.

Cultivate peer networks: Connect with others in your industry and take the time to build rapport beyond just the exchange of business cards. Your industry peers are like-minded people who probably have great insight into your working situation.

Get social: There is an amazing amount of useful content shared on LinkedIn, Twitter and other social-media platforms on a daily basis. The challenge lies in sorting the valuable from the worthless. But don’t let that deter you. With a little effort, you can find and follow the groups, thought leaders and hashtags that are related to your field. But don’t just be a reader, kick it up a notch. Post and share content illustrating your expertise.

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Teach others: When you impart your knowledge and skills to others, paradoxically, you often find that you’ll learn even more yourself. In fact, sometimes, you’ll discover more from your “students” than they do from you.

Access resources: Many professions require you to maintain a membership, and your association likely offers industry events, conferences, workshops, on-demand learning, e-newsletters, journals, webinars and more. So take full advantage of these learning opportunities.

Your professional development is something that you need to own and champion for yourself. Your immediate manager and organization can certainly support you by providing feedback, advice, tools and resources, but you are the only one behind the wheel of your future. So jump in the driver’s seat and start steering for yourself.

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