Professional Development: Engaging Your Personal Team of Professional Development Consultants

By Eric Stoddard, Northcentral University

When it comes to professional development, it’s easy to forget an immediately available resource that’s everywhere around us—our colleagues.

We spend all day, every day with our co-workers. They know every move we make, and how we’ll react in every situation. They often know our strengths and our weaknesses even better than we do. Yet it’s rare that we create environments in which our peers can share that knowledge with us. In fact, it’s likely they won’t tell us a thing about how we can improve, until we genuinely and repeatedly let them know that we’re open to hearing it.

In What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith suggests that we often mistakenly assume that because we’ve arrived at this point in our careers, every behavior we demonstrated along the way must have contributed to our success. But what we perceive as a strength may be a deficiency our leaders decided to live with when they promoted us! Without feedback, it’s difficult to understand our weaknesses. Imagine the power that lies in the ability to truly see our own weaknesses and learn, as author Marcus Buckingham would say, to “manage around” them.

Feedback & Fear

At Northcentral University, a global provider of online graduate education with a large presence right here in the Scottsdale Airpark, I gather my leadership team for an hour per week for a “book club,” where, regardless of the week’s urgencies and obligations, we take time to focus on professional development. We’re now reading The OZ Principle, whose authors advocate asking for candid feedback to better understand how to be truly accountable for results.

In his book Winning, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch discusses the importance of candid feedback, but notes that only 20 percent of those he surveyed received “honest, straight-between-the-eyes feedback” even once per year! Quicken Loans, America’s largest online lender which also has a substantial presence in Scottsdale, has managed to create a brilliant culture of feedback sharing. Bill Emerson, the CEO, often says, “The person who tells you that you have spinach in your teeth is your friend.” Yet an environment of feedback sharing doesn’t naturally exist. As Welch pointed out, we’re taught from a young age to “soften bad news” or “make nice about awkward subjects.”

The good news is we can create this environment with those immediately around us. Why don’t we do this? It’s scary! We know we have things we can improve, but like ostriches with our heads in the sand, we sometimes don’t want to face reality. As I discussed in my book, 30 Pounds in 40 Days, we’re often our own biggest enemy. That being the case, would you rather have the chance to fight that enemy, knowing whom you’re up against, or do you want to keep your head comfortably in the sand? Let’s face our vulnerabilities, and embrace the opportunity to improve!

We can start by simply asking the question, “How can I get better,” and then repeating this process, meeting the answers with open-mindedness and absence of judgment every time. Let’s check our egos at the door, let our guard down and sincerely ask for feedback from those around us. Through this sincerity and sharing, we can build trusting relationships while making strides in our professional development.

So do read the books on professional development. Attend the workshops! Pursue your next degree. Just don’t forget along the way that you have your own personal growth-consultants sitting right next to you, potentially holding the key to unlocking the next step in your career. The advice we need is everywhere around us … but we won’t hear it until we stop to ask for it.

Eric Stoddard is the author of 30 Pounds in 40 Days, and the senior vice president of the NCU Experience at Northcentral University, in the Greater Airpark. Northcentral University educates professionals throughout the world and provides an accessible opportunity to earn a U.S. regionally accredited degree. To hear more about NCU, visit www.ncu.edu. Contact:  eric@ericstoddard.com; linkedin.com/ericstoddard; Twitter @EricStoddard; facebook.com/ericstoddardauthor.