It seems there are two kinds of people these days:
- Those tied to a firehose juggling work from home, online schooling and caring for family and neighbors.
- Those spending too much spare time on social media.
If the first one sounds oh-too familiar, you might want to flag this story for later. But if you’re in the second group, now could be an ideal time to focus on your professional development. Not sure where to start? Try this 5-step approach:
1. Think about your career goals
“Reflect on your strengths, interests and what motivates you,” said Kim Gibson, program director, global talent strategy at Unum. “Are there ways you can add greater value in your current role, or do you want to set your sights on a new role?”
If one of your goals is to move into a management position or one with greater leadership potential, learn the criteria for that role and what it will take to achieve it.
2. Decide what to focus on
Whether you want to manage other people or not, expanding your leadership skills is always a good idea. Gibson suggests focusing on one or more of these areas:
- Be a subject matter expert — Consider your area of expertise. How can you become even stronger so you’re identified as an expert? “Expertise not only helps you perform at a higher level, it also helps you gain visibility from your leaders, peers and others inside and out of your department,” Gibson said.
- Fill your gaps — Big or tiny, we all have them: gaps in meeting the expectations of our current role or the next step up. Look at what you need to work on to close those gaps. If you’re not sure, look at your most recent performance evaluation, talk to your manager or ask a (scrupulously honest) colleague.
- Continue learning — From technology and tools to best practices, the world around us is always changing. “It’s critical to stay relevant in the market and in your current role,” Gibson said.
3. Identify opportunities and resources — and get involved
Once you’ve identified your goals and areas to focus on, it’s time to map out the specific actions you’ll take to move toward them. Ask your manager or HR department about educational programs, job-shadowing or mentorship programs the company may sponsor. Schedule a virtual coffee chat or lunch break with colleagues in other areas to keep networking while working at home.
Look outside your company, too. If there’s a professional organization for your type of work (and there is for almost anything), see if it has a local chapter or online group you can join. Organizations such as Toastmasters are friendly, affordable ways to build your speaking and leadership skills. Volunteering is another great way to network, develop skills and help others at the same time.
4. Ask for feedback
As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. Ask your manager, teammates, mentor or other trusted colleague for honest feedback on how you’re doing — and where you can improve.
Yes, this can be hard. But being open to feedback is an essential leadership skill.
5. Celebrate your successes
We’re not saying you should brag about your perfect exam score or new bonus. But you should keep your LinkedIn profile current when you get a promotion, earn a new certification or pass a professional milestone. And don’t assume your manager knows, either. “Be sure you’re having regular check-ins and keep your manager updated on your progress,” Gibson said. “If this isn’t part of the culture in your organization, don’t be afraid to initiate the conversation.”