Five Paths to Professional Development

This is a guest post by Catherine Johns.  She teaches entrepreneurs and service professionals how to communicate confidence and charisma.   You can find and follow her on her Catherine Johns website or at @catherinejjohns on Twitter.

When corporate trainers talk among themselves, they bemoan the “prisoners” who populate training rooms. Lifelong learners they are not. Prisoners show up for educational activities against their will, they think they know plenty already; they’re annoyed with the person who suggested they might benefit from professional development … and they don’t keep their feelings to themselves.  
Professional Development
Image courtesy of  Naypong/ 
Not far behind the Prisoners in the trainers’ hit parade you’ll find the “vacationers.”  They’re happy to spend time in the training room because it beats being at their desk all day, at least it’s a little bit of variety. The boss is not there looking over their shoulder.  And if they’re lucky, the training day includes donuts and an afternoon snack.
You, of course, have a different attitude about professional development – that’s why you’re a Women’s Ally member. The Prisoners and the Vacationers? You’ll leave them in the dust.  In this challenging economy, we’re all competing … to move up, to move on, or even to keep the position we already have. The Prisoners and Vacationers simply can’t compete with someone who genuinely wants to learn new skills and develop existing ones.
But here’s the thing.  Real professional development isn’t just about improving what you do – doing it better or faster or more efficiently.  Real professional development is also about enhancing who you ARE.
How to Enhance Who You ARE
That means getting smarter, savvier, more promotable. It means making sure you have a polished, professional presence so people notice you and respect you.
How does a woman do that?  If you’re lucky enough to have a mentor, take full advantage of everything you can learn from her.  If not – look for someone who has what you want, professionally speaking, and ask her to help you get there. Hesitant to ask for a favor? Think about how good you feel when you have the opportunity to help someone.  Now give someone else a chance to feel that good.
Many firms have programs for women ranging from retreats to workshops to lunch-n-learns. Use them to the fullest.  If your company doesn’t already have a woman’s leadership program in place, be the one who gets the ball rolling.  Bring in a speaker, set up a seminar, create an opportunity for you and your colleagues.
Consider a coach.  That might mean a long-term relationship with someone who will guide you as you grow in your career.  Or, maybe it’s just a few sessions focused on a specific issue you’d like to work on: better communication skills, stronger leadership, professional dress and appearance, whatever it would take to help you take the next professional step.
Maybe you think you can’t afford a coach? I’ll tell you that one of the smartest decisions I ever made was to work with a life coach when I was transitioning out of radio and into the next thing – and I hadn’t even figured out what the next thing was going to be!  I could have floundered for months or even years without her help to sort out the possibilities.  The money you spend on coaching can be a spectacular investment.
Of course, the DIY approach can work, too.  Read the right books, attend a webinar or two, go to a workshop, subscribe to a site like Women’s Ally – gather information that will increase your value at work and figure out on your own how to put it into practice.
However, you decide to pursue professional development, manage your attitude.  Be open to learning and growing and take advantage of every opportunity.  Keep the Prisoners and the Vacationers at a distance – their negativity about learning can be contagious.  Inoculate yourself with a positive approach to professional development. 

Question:  What do you do for professional development?

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