Personal and professional development: the final leg of our five-part core leadership skills journey. The other fundamental components of leadership – self-awareness, developing relationships, and effective communication, have paved the way for this last critical piece of the puzzle.
When done consistently, personal and professional development efforts boost the other three leadership skills, and help you become your most productive and effective self in the process.
I’m lightening up this final article in sharing what I do in my own life to continuously grow myself – hopefully you’ll find an idea or two that you take into your own life!
I define personal development as activities that build your all-around life skills (emotional intelligence, communication, grit, etc.). Professional development is more content-based and specific – it helps us perform better in our jobs and career.
And now, here’s a key connection that needs to be made…
How personal and professional development fits into the leadership picture
Let’s go back one more time to John C. Maxwell’s book, The 5 Levels of Leadership. We’ve talked about Level 1 (“by position”) and Level 2 (“by permission”) leaders and their basic approaches to influencing others. Level 3 leaders operate through their productivity – they inspire others based on what they’ve done in the past and what they do presently for their teams and followers.
Level 3 leaders are sometimes experts in their field of work, but are often just really hard-working, skilled performers.
How did we jump from personal development to productivity? Here’s the link: the value that you’re able to produce in the world is directly tied to your overall mindset, skills and habits. And all three of these areas are built through deliberate development efforts.
When you consciously invest in sharpening your mindset, honing the skills related to your craft, and regularly put in the work needed to create a product worth appreciating, you grow more than just yourself. You grow the trust that your followers have in you as well as the respect they hold for you."The value that you're able to produce in the world is directly tied to your overall mindset, skills and habits. " Click To Tweet
How I develop myself
Let’s keep the focus on these three key elements: mindset, skills and habits. Here’s a look at how I address all three of them in my life.
Building a leadership mindset
Off the top of my head, there are two main ways I work on thinking like a leader.
Learn from other leaders
And they do not necessarily have to be working my field of work. A great leader in one field has all of the required qualities needed to lead in another field, minus the content knowledge. Their levels of self-awareness, interpersonal skills and communication are all very high and can be modeled by anyone who’s paying close enough attention.
I love to watch there people’s Youtube videos, listen to their podcasts, read their blog posts, and follow them on social media. Some leaders I’m focusing my attention on these days are Chris Do, Amy Porterfield, Pat Flynn, Jonathan Stark, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Seth Godin.
Look for and capitalize on the leadership opportunities in my own life
Literally every single day, there are moments that present themselves in which I can act as a leader and positively influence others. It’s all about being “tuned-in” to those chances and seeing them as ways to grow.
Every positive or negative event that occurs is something that I can reflect on and examine how I showed up in that situation. This build self-awareness.
Every interaction with a colleague is a chance to deepen the relationship I have with them. Being curious about their life, asking how things are outside of work, and being present for them in their times of need are the key elements that help me grow connections to others.
Lastly, every email, phone call, meeting and conversation is a unique little shot at communicating clearly, confidently and in a helpful way. All of these moments add up over time to build greater leadership credibility and effectiveness.
Key skills I hang my hat on
I rely on a number of key skills to perform effectively in a professional setting. Here are three big ones:
A lot of my colleagues think I’m organized, and for the most part, they’re right! I regularly put time aside to organize my thoughts, to-do items, and projects.
When I’m really on fire, I get super clear on my top priorities for each day, scheduling them into my Google calendar. The clearer I can get on the two or three items that I really want to tackle in a given day, the more likely I am to complete them.
I’m a big fan of several relatively simple organizational tools:
- Google calendar: as mentioned, helps me organize my days and weeks. I use the “week” view the most because it’s the period of time that I’m most often thinking in terms of.
- Evernote: a very flexible note-taking software, allows me to build lists of ideas and resources. Its web-clipper browser extension lets me “clip” articles, videos and pages from the internet into my personal Evernote folders so that I can look them up and reference them later. (I am using this exact functionality to build my own personal, digital cookbook based on recipes that I find online and try out at home).
- Trello: a more recent addition to my tool kit, this visual project organizer is a user-friendly way of mapping out multi-step work without having to take the time needed to learn a more comprehensive project management software system like Asana, for example.
- A good old Steno notepad: a physical stack of paper that I take into meetings to write things down and look back at when needed. It allows me to stay off a computer if that’s appropriate for the meeting environment. As a bonus, it keeps my penmanship somewhat intact!
I touched on listening in last week’s post on communication, but it’s worth a quick revisit here.
Listening is a skill, and it should be treated as such. It’s a trainable action that can be performed with deliberate intention, and conscious practice of it over time strengthens the learning abilities of the listener.
There are three levels of listening:
- Subjective: where the listener isn’t really focusing on the person talking – they’re focused on the response they are going to blurt out at the first possible moment.
- Objective: in which the listener is not judging what the person talking is saying. They remain curious and open-minded to learning new information
- Intuitive: a level at which the listener is “reading between the lines” of what the speaker is saying, looking for the deeper meaning in what’s being said and noticing what is not being said.
When I let myself really focus in on the person talking, I learn new, helpful information which allows me to be more effective and productive. As you learn more and more valuable information, you become more personally- and professionally-developed in the long run.
Writing is one of those odd skills that I’ve become proficient in over time (without really being aware of the progress!). It’s now one of my biggest professional strengths, as it’s something that my colleagues frequently ask me to put to use on tasks and projects.
Every chance to write is a chance to lead. As such, I can be pretty meticulous in how I produce most messages, emails, letters and blog posts (obviously! :))
Coach’s questions: what is your mindset when you write an email? How does your writing approach benefit your professional life?
Habits that help me remain effective
There has been a great deal of change in my life over the last couple of years. Between building my relationship, moving and losing some key family members – it has been hard to maintain the natural rhythm of my life.
Habits exist to help us expend less energy in making the decision to take action. They’re meant to streamline our life, and based on the kinds of outcomes they create, they usually define who we are at the end of the day.
Despite all of the unexpected (and often amazing!) changes in my life, here are a few key habits that keep me growing personally and professionally.
I rediscovered my love of reading in my mid-20’s, and ever since, it has helped me grow my knowledge base on a number of different topics. Most of what I read is non-fiction, with current popular topics being leadership, entrepreneurship, psychology, sales and marketing.
Even after a long day, my goal is to always take at least 5-10 minutes to read something that stimulates my mind and keeps me curious. I’m a firm believer that learning keeps us mentally young and strong.
And you can always check out what I’m currently reading by going to my recommended reading page!
Although I’m in a bit of a temporary slump in activity level, I’m very conscious of how much I move and how hard my body gets worked out (or not!).
I walk as much as possible in my daily life. I’m never afraid to park far away from where I’m ultimately trying to go in order to “get those extra steps in.” Typically, I walk to work whether it is +30 or -30 degrees outside. The habit of consistent movement in my life has helped keep me relatively lean and strong.
Listing to podcasts
An accompaniment to many walks and sometimes even the work I’m doing, listening to educational podcasts about my favourite topics of interest just adds more learning and growing to each day.
Recommended books on productivity plus personal and professional development
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey and Getting Things Done by David Allen – these are the two classics that I put above all the others.
The 7 Habits isn’t purely centered around productivity, but Habits #2 and #3 (respectively titled Start With the End in Mind and Put First Things First) are must-read sections of the book when it comes to boosting productivity.
Getting Things Done – also referred to simply as “GTD,” is really a system, not just a book. It will show you how to capture and organize all the information that comes into your life, so you can sort it all out and – of course – get things done! You can implement the system easily through Evernote, mentioned above.
You reap what you sow
Who you at the start of tomorrow is based on what you do today.
Who you are at the start of next week is based on what you do this week.
And who you are at the start of next month is based on what you do this month.
If you don’t like where you are now, maybe it’s time to look back and see what’s brought you here? And if you don’t like where you’re headed, now might be the perfect time to change your course.
What’s the most worthwhile path to long-term change? You guessed it: personal and professional development. 🙂
Coach’s question: what is your favourite personal and professional development habit?
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