Just like all the other relationships in your life, it's only natural that you'll experience patterns of ebb and flow as you navigate your career path. But, if your professional development seems to have stalled out or hit a plateau, you don't have to wait for feedback from the boss to kick your ambitions back into high gear. Regain control of your career progression with this four-step approach to taking ownership of your own professional development, and you'll find yourself in a better position to explore future career opportunities and leadership opportunities as they come up. Here's how:
Laboratorians are already fluent in the language of diagnostics. Therefore, personality, skills, and interests inventories such as the DiSC Personality Test, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Kolbe Index/Instinct Tests, Emotional Intelligence testing or the Clifton StrengthsFinder are a logical place to start in order to determine exactly what your professional strengths and weaknesses currently are. You can then leverage that information to help you understand how to reach those next career milestones.
“There are a lot of great diagnostics out there people can use,” says Calvin Guyer, Executive Coach, Speaker and Workshop Facilitator. “If you take a lot of these diagnostics, they help you formulate a picture of who you are. That’s the first thing — do these diagnostics, and then step back and take a look at what they’re telling you.”
Soliciting feedback from the people you work with can also help you to zoom in on an accurate snapshot of where you are right now in your career, and how your personality impacts your day-to-day interactions, your image within the workplace, and your leadership potential.
“Once you know what the diagnostics are telling you, you might want to seek input from colleagues, peers, and mentors,” Guyer elaborates. “You can get a deeper understanding about how you're showing up in the work environment with these behaviors and what your personality is.”
Any organization you work for should already have clearly communicated its own mission statement before you ever joined the team. Of course, you wouldn’t have come on board if you didn’t agree with your company’s fundamental founding principles, but your own personal guiding light may shine in a bit of a different direction. And that’s ok. Think about what matters the most to YOU, personally and professionally, and how you can capitalize on those interests to achieve a greater degree of career satisfaction.
“You have to know the company’s mission statement to be able to fit in and make sure you understand what you’re expected to do,” says Dr. Joe El-Khoury, Co-Director of the Clinical Chemistry Laboratory at Yale-New Haven Health. “From my perspective, what was very helpful for me was to sit down and write on a piece of paper what I expect of myself after I've been in the position for a while. Then I was able to basically drive myself into making sure I fulfill each and every aspect of that mission statement.”
Think about the last time you laid out a series of goals to work toward in the lab. Could they use some updating? Perhaps you've already achieved certain career milestones and simply haven't had time to think about new ones, but remember — in today's competitive workplace environments, getting complacent and resting on your laurels is not a good idea. Continually setting your sights higher creates a sense of drive and momentum not just to meet expectations, but to constantly keep bettering yourself and in turn, the organization you work for.
As a lab leader, think about what you'd most like to achieve going forward. What existing skills could you improve upon? What new skills would you like to work on developing? Do you need to work on your leadership skills? Are there continuing professional education opportunities or professional areas of growth you'd like to learn more about?
Brainstorm a set of new career goals, and then prioritize using a “WIN” approach — what's important NOW? Don't let yourself become overwhelmed with a massive to-do list; just pick two or three goals that mean the most to you to concentrate on for a short-term period of time — three months, six months or a year. Also, decide how you'll measure your results and set some benchmarks for gauging your career development along the way.
“Lay out what the competency is, what strengthening that competency does for you personally, and what it does for you in the work environment,” Guyer suggests. “You might say, ‘I need to get better at developing my direct reports because I'm in a managerial position and I've got 10 people reporting to me. I need to get better at helping them get better at their jobs.'"
When launching efforts to achieve your new goals, do a little digging to find out what existing resources are already available to you — books, articles, seminars, and white papers are great places to start.
Discuss your ideas, ambitions, and development plan with your supervisor and ask for his or her support in helping you achieve them. You might be pleasantly surprised at the reaction you get when you take the initiative, and the assistance your supervisor is willing to generate. Some questions Guyer suggests asking include: Is there a seminar on this subject I can attend? Are there some stretch assignments within the organization where my skills might apply? Can I put in some extra time on a certain project?
Seeking out informal professional development opportunities like finding a mentor who inspires and encourages you. This is another smart way to get ahead when it comes to professional development.
“Hire a coach, find a peer; maybe it's your supervisor, maybe it's not, it depends on what that relationship is,” Guyer says. “Find somebody who, on a regular basis, you can go to and have a conversation about successes and failures. There are going to be times when you come up with an idea and it doesn't work the way you want it to. You need somebody to dialogue with on how to run that out.”
Lastly, look for ways to grow and get engaged outside of the lab — participating on cross-departmental committees, finding out about professional development programs, doing lean processes with different departments or joining a professional association are all avenues that can lead to new contacts, leadership opportunities, and career growth.
Getting your career growth back on track requires you to be proactive. Take an inventory of your strengths and skills, write a personal mission statement, set high but achievable goals, and ask for the support you need. Follow this simple plan, and you'll find yourself more motivated than ever to take your career to the next level.