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Contemplating the future: professional and personal development

green heart with blue flowers

Reaching your potential has been the focus of many articles and books as well as the livelihood for a significant number of managers, mentors and developers.

There are commonalties in most approaches to developing individual potential – first of all some element of introspection is critical – a reflective space doesn’t just happen it needs to be shaped by the person – and secondly, thinking about one’s future is not enough, there needs to be will for action, establishing certain behaviours that help progress.

It is up to you

Unlike the era of job security and employer paternalism, managing your development today is 100% your own responsibility and appropriate action is required.

There is an expectation by some that coaching and mentoring is simply a replacement for training; training as an approach suggests someone already knows what is needed and as a result the trainer just ‘comes up with the goods’.

Such a passive approach is unlikely to be a robust mechanism for development and whilst coaching and mentoring calls for more active engagement, if it is taken as the responsibility of someone else to ensure I get what I need from it, many will be disappointed.

Whilst it may be important to take account of others, others cannot be left to determine your future for you, it is too much power for anyone to have over you.

  • What are the three greatest strengths I contribute?
  • What are three significant areas for development – my weaknesses or blind spots?

You are unique

In a recent Harvard Article on this topic, Robert Kaplan, an inspiration in this area, points out that it is important to be wary of conventional wisdom. It’s almost always wrong – for you!

Hopping on the newest fad or bandwagon may offer short term reassurance, but often leads to time on one’s hands for regret.

Potential at a personal, inner realm, does not need to be based on the decisions of peers, nor popular opinion; it calls for a robust assessment of one’s own passions, skills, areas for development and stretch, and convictions; and being courageous enough to act upon them – this calls for good questions and open feedback.

A key challenge is facing, as Jim Collins puts it, the brutal facts.

Without this step, we can shape our future based on psychological patterns that have ‘past their sell by date’ rather than work from a deeper review of where we are.

Within this process the views of peers may well offer a catalyst for facing truths, and whilst this may raise the levels of personal discomfort, it can provide a chance to make decisions that take us out of repeated patterns into a more free decision making environment – one that is less determined by ‘free-floating’ anxiety.

We will always get more of what we have already got unless we do something different, and we can never get enough of what we don’t need.

  • What are your key tasks now and how much do you excel in them?
  • What do they need to be and what would you have to do to develop into them?

Setbacks and Development

In any developmental career journey, there is the experience of setbacks – it is an inevitable part of the territory.

It helps to take a view that justice tends to prevail over time.

Stories of injustice are alive in so many settings, from businesses to nation states, from young to old, from families to communities.

From an individual developmental perspective wherever injustice appears to live the individual needs to step back and take stock.

Most importantly, whilst structural and systemic forces are always at work it is important to assess one’s own role in the events.

Setbacks are inevitable, ambitions are only plans, life always intervenes, believing that I have a role that I have played in an event, and that life challenges are inevitable brings a sense of control and responsibility back into the frame.

As a result it encourages ‘getting up and dusting oneself down and moving on’. It helps to focus on what is in the sphere of control and what areas you need to focus upon to ensure employability and fulfilment.

  • What are your key tasks now and how much do you excel in them?
  • What do they need to be and what would you have to do to develop into them?

Taking risks – don’t play safe

This can result in a commitment to doing the right thing, at times this may mean speaking out, making new decisions, discovering new ways of working and catalysing deeper dialogue and quality meeting.

In many setting this entails taking risks – depending on the views of those with power, voicing views may result in dissent that may in turn be frowned upon and put a person’s future at risk.

However without creative conflict most organisations run graver risks than having to face people disagreeing with or disliking others – however whilst ‘group think’, ‘corridor leadership’ or ‘CEO always right’ have consequences that can be significant, many would rather collude with these behaviours than face significant differences and the emotional tone that accompanies them.

In many situations the learned behaviours we have developed from our early years calls us to face our psychological challenges rather than the business demands.

To take risks may require some ‘tying up of the camels’ rather than just ‘trusting in Allah’.

For instance, new behaviours may be more possible if there is agreement for experimentation amongst peers; speaking out may be less distressing when there is less ‘investment’ in one’s own place within a business than in the business itself – this is a character and leadership requirement and whilst not everyone needs to develop it in business, but all of us need its equivalent in life.

Finding our heart

At the source of each of our potential, is finding our heart.

Today for many this is not just about what we enjoy doing or have a passion for, but also about the kind of world we want to contribute toward.

Identifying what is important to us, seeking the truth of our life, facing the incongruities and failings of how we behave compared to the image we have of ourselves, understanding we are all in a process of ‘becoming’ (helps us to forgive ourselves without giving up) and following our own path and the role of others are all elements of finding heart.

As these aspects become clearer we look to find the directions and opportunities that give potential for them to be lived and developed – often through work.

As the role of work is at the heart of many people’s lives and identities, so to does our relationship to work become a challenge for us all – a challenge that each we address in our own way.