It doesn’t matter where you currently are in your life. You may be just starting out a new career or halfway through to where you want to see yourself in order to feel successful — there will always be space to grow and develop.
If you’re someone like me, chances are that professional success and fulfilment to you is as important as your personal fulfilment. In my case, the two are one and the same. I spend a fair amount of time outside of work trying to figure out how to get to where I want to be without losing my soul or pretending to be someone that I’m not.
How can you feel successful in life if, in order to achieve something, you become someone that you are not proud of, right? Anyway, self-development is hugely important to me and I spend most of my spare time reading, teaching myself new things and upskilling.
A few months ago, Chris Watson, the founder of Endor Learn & Develop and an award-winning specialist in the promotion of adaptive skills, gifted me a book called Upskill: 21 keys to professional growth. What is great about this book is that he wrote it after undertaking his 10year independent study into adaptive work practices and pulled together a list of skills that managers value in their employees the most. Trust me when I say that this book is a wonderful resource for everyone who is interested in self-improvement and their career success as it’s full of tools, resources and tips on how to improve and develop your skills.
To be honest, this is probably one of those must-have books for anyone who is serious about their professional development and growth. I marked almost every page to come back to the information later. And, if you are interested to find out what are these 21 keys to professional growth, then you can find these below with a short summary of each too!
To have influence means to have the ability to persuade, inspire, motivate and convince others to achieve something important to you or them. A person with this skill will usually be naturally good at effective articulation and expressing thoughts and ideas in a coherent and convincing way.
Try using AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) model when sharing your ideas with others. This can help highlight the benefits of your ideas, which can motivate and inspire others easier.
Knowing the motivations, goals and concerns of those around you can also help you influence them easier. Just show a genuine interest in other people — this can help you prepare and adapt your idea pitch to those whose decisions or opinions you want to influence.
Storytelling also helps! You can use some dramatic elements when sharing your ideas so it would be easier for people to make sense of what you are saying. Using visuals and pictures is even better! When possible, share testimonials, endorsements and case studies to support your message too. And remember, it’s best to give the most important information at the very beginning of your pitch as this is the information that people remember best.
👉 Commercial thinking
To have commercial thinking means to understand what makes a business successful and why. It includes having decent knowledge and understanding of financial matters and other realities that affect how a business operates and why. Having commercial acumen enables to manage the costs effectively, make better-informed decisions and anticipate future possibilities.
If you’re unfamiliar with the world of business, it can take some time to develop commercial thinking, but “Upskill” offers some tips on how to get you started:
Use Google Alerts to follow what new is happening within your industry or subscribe to an online magazine with commercial information pages. Start reading The Economist, The Drum, Business Matters, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fast Company to get an up to date information regarding market predictions and financial insights.
Even better — try conducting a SWOT analysis of the entire organisation you are working for. This will help you understand where your company stands in comparison to competitors. You may even identify when you need to be disruptive in the market!
Finally, ask to read and interpret your company’s profit and loss statements, balance sheets and cash flows. Try sourcing your competitors’ accounts and annual reports so you could understand your rivals’ products and services better.
👉 Commitment to change & Adaptation
To be committed to change is to embrace change and understand its purpose. It means to view the challenges experienced as life lessons and use these life lessons to solve new problems.
Change is frequently a joint effort, however, and you’d be able to communicate the importance of it to your team in order for everyone to have a positive attitude and enthusiasm towards change. Being truly committed to change means being open to stepping outside the comfort zone when you need it.
Behavioural change, of course, is quite difficult, but there are tools and pieces of advice that can help you along the way. Begin by focussing your energy and attention on the things that you can control. Be proactive and look to increase your own circle of influence. Always seek information you need instead of waiting until someone else informs you of changes that happen at work.
Don’t be afraid to show your big appetite for new knowledge. This will help you to anticipate any future changes and send out a message to others that you are adaptable and responsive. As change approaches, acknowledge the things you used to be able to do but can’t do now, and the things you couldn’t do before but can do now.
👉 Constructive communication
Good communication is not as easy as it seems. Good communicators speak in a constructive and engaging way. They ask questions, listen more than they talk and first seek to understand and only then to be understood. They are curious about the people they talk to and want to know what they have to say and what they truly mean. To be skilled at constructive communication means to know what tone of voice, words and body language to use to achieve the best results.
To improve your communication, keep it simple! Be Accurate, Brief and Clear. It’s important to be still and talk about one thing at a time. Ask open questions to expand on what the person next to you is trying to say and use closed questions to confirm your understanding.
When working or meeting new people, using words like ‘we’ and ‘our’ can build a bond. It’s also a good idea to ask insightful questions to open the doors for deeper conversation and connection.
When presenting your ideas in a professional environment, always start by stating the purpose of the presentation, then why it’s important, and only then provide a preview of the topics that you’ll discuss. It also helps if you state how your audience will benefit and why from the presentation that you’re about to give. Another good tip — always focus on how you can make your audience feel: will you want to inspire or excite them, maybe you’ll want to reassure them? Always build your message around your intention, then take them on a journey.
👉 Creativity & Innovation
Creative people look beyond the things that are already obvious but spend time thinking of new, alternative ideas and solutions. They are curious, imaginative, and question traditional thinking. They are the people that help organisations generate new approaches and innovative solutions.
Every person can practice creativity. You can start by capturing all your ideas in one place so you could find them later or merely observing everyday problems that you encounter regularly and trying to look for possible solutions.
Another good way to help your creative juices flow is relaxation. You can start by spending a few minutes each day meditating, for example, or simply allowing yourself some time to rewind and relax. It might be listening to calm or classical music or simply being mindful for a few minutes.
Reading more quality content or learning new skills, such as hula hooping or wood carving, can also strengthen your creativity because you will experience something entirely different than you are normally used to.
👉 A sense of direction & purpose
A sense of direction and purpose means to have a clear vision of the organisation that you’re working at. It’s about having consistent goals with the organisation and being able to break these goals down into well-defined tasks and activities. This helps to achieve the tasks as needed to meet the deadlines.
People want to live up to a fine reputation and will rise to high expectations if these are set for them. You can motivate your team by convincing them that the goals set are obtainable. It’s also effective to give an aspirational view of the future, which can be achieved by first achieving various smaller and more specific goals.
It’s important, however, that you break down complex goals into simpler activities and encourage personal accountability. This can help you and your team respond better to challenging goals and situations where goals seem to be difficult to achieve.
👉 Good planning & Organisation
The planners always think ahead and are good at planning and organising their work and their everyday life. They are good at meeting deadlines, working to a schedule, and managing resources.
Legend has it that spending 30 minutes at the weekend to prepare your week ahead can make you more effective and productive. Knowing what exactly needs to be done that week beforehand will ensure that you try your best to work on schedule and meet the deadlines.
You can also copy Leonardo da Vinci and create a master list of everything you need to get done (work and home), including short-, medium-, and long-term goals and review it daily, or twice a day.
Once you have a list of all the things that you need to do, simply organise your time in such a way that you’d have the highest chances to get the stuff done. You might find my article helpful when creating your schedule and setting priorities.
👉 Enthusiasm for customer service
Many of us have experience working in customer services at some point in our lives, but not all of us can say that we have the enthusiasm to provide an exceptional customer experience.
However, great customer service is important for all companies so no wonder that this skill is very valued. People who are enthusiastic for customer service are usually very likable and thrive on having ongoing relationships with their customers. They listen and engage with customers in a professional and friendly manner. This attitude and behaviour make them great ambassadors for the company because when treated well, customers create positive associations and opinions of the company that they ar dealing with.
If you want to excel at customer services, start by getting very good at expressing your thankfulness and going the extra mile for your customers when the opportunity arises. People also always appreciate handwritten thank you cards.
Practice active listening and don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes. Remember, no matter what, you should always remain composed and treat your customers with respect. This may mean treating them as individuals and avoiding scripts and automated or robotic responses if possible. Make sure to confirm that the customer is satisfied with your efforts to solve their problems. Remember, exceeding customer expectations leads to loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.
👉 Focus on developing others
Managers also value when their employees care about their team members and help them grow professionally. Focus on developing others means that you not only focus on your own development and self-improvement but also show a desire to support others in advancing their skills, knowledge, understanding and performance at work.
Explore the long-term career goals of your team. Help them identify their skills and areas that they still need to develop. Wherever possible, focus on strengths, not weaknesses. Give positive feedback when earned and don’t be afraid to give negative feedback when needed too.
Learn a simple framework like the GROW (Goal, Realities, Obstacles, Way Forward) model to coach your team members. Even better, introduce a mentoring network in your company and oversee the matching of mentors and mentees across your team.
It’s handy to know that 70% of development comes through day-to-day tasks, 20% through exposure to coaching, networking and collaboration, and only 10% through formal learning and professional qualification. Keep this in mind when trying to create a good environment for your team members to develop and improve.
👉 Interpersonal awareness & Diplomacy
Diplomacy and the ability to engage with people respectfully is another skill that is highly valued. Diplomacy is about staying impartial and emphasizing the feelings and emotions of those around you. If you can relate to different groups of people, others will enjoy your company and feel valued and appreciated.
If you don’t like small talk, then you should know that it’s quite important to use it. It helps you to know others better and become closer to your team. Be a team player and offer support to those who need some sort of assistance. Be sure to befriend those who are outside your immediate work group too.
Be open and expressive with others, but be sure to show that you care and respect them. Always say thank you when you mean it and be humble and polite to break down any defensiveness.
We all tend to judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions, so think about the possible intentions of others in order to understand different points of view when problems arise. Always deal with a problem, not a person.
When presenting negative information, make sure to highlight at least one positive aspect so people would feel better. Most importantly, remember to praise your colleagues publicly, but criticize them in private. Problems should be always solved behind closed doors.
Intuition involves trusting your gut feeling. Intuitive people follow their instincts and excel at noticing patterns and connections between different situations. They are good at understanding body language and non-verbal cues, which help them make the right decisions about how to act and what to say.
It helps if you give yourself more time to relax and stay still as the quieter you become, the easier it will be for you to pick up on various subconscious clues. Practice differentiating between thinking and feeling.
You need to read and learn more about your field of study as dedicating some time to read can help you look at things in new ways, which will make you trust your instincts better.
Make an effort to stop and think about what is driving your sensations at certain moments. Mind maps, lists, and drawing your ideas and concepts can also help you practice creativity and intuitive thinking.
👉 Motivation to succeed
When you are motivated to succeed, you do your best to deliver great results at work repeatedly no matter how difficult it may seem to be. You’ll know why you are pushing yourself forward and why you want to do things better. Motivated people tend to have a positive mindset and personal drive. They have a strong desire to grow and focus on improving themselves in all aspects of their lives. Others frequently view them as very persistent and hard-working.
You can build your personal motivation by setting challenging goals for yourself and trying to meet them no matter what. Think of something that would push you outside your comfort zone and explore your reasons why you want to achieve something. Ask yourself what is most important to you, what small steps you need to start taking and by when you need to achieve the goals you set for yourself.
Another good way to motivate yourself is to write down what is it that you want to become and read it frequently so you wouldn’t forget. Think how simple daily tasks and achievements can help you get closer to where you want to be. Write down your goals, deadlines and rewards for your progress. Take pride in all your small achievements, be persistent when things don’t go as planned and stay resilient even if things are not working out as expected.
You can motivate others too. We all have an inner desire to direct our own lives, become more skillful at something and be part of the bigger picture. Simply look for ways to extend the levels of personal autonomy, mastery and purpose in those around you. Provide others with a sense of ownership as they will try to push harder to achieve the goals.
Being interested in self-development means that you are not only open to professional and personal growth but also actively try to incorporate it into your everyday life. It may mean that you have a strong thirst for further learning and education and are be willing to stretch yourself when needed. Reviewing and thinking about your performance and what you’d do better is your second nature. You welcome minor setbacks and mistakes as these are simply new learning experiences to you.
Start your self-development journey by noting down your strengths and areas that you need to work on more. Think of the things that you would like to start doing, continue doing, stop doing and do differently. Start a journal to keep track of your self-development journey — it’s a great way to develop your self-awareness and observe how you are getting on.
Try creating your perfect CV and add all the experiences and skills that you want to see on it. Include your professional results and achievements even if you don’t have these yet. This will make you want to push yourself and will guide you to learn and do the things that you want to see on your CV.
Be open to learning new things. Now you can learn almost anything online (frequently for free too) so spending a couple of hours a week on learning something that interests you should become a part of your life. You can visit Open Culture and explore their selection, or consider getting an Ivy League education for free using Open Yale Courses and Stanford Online… You can also explore FutureLearn, Skillshare or Udemyfor shorter, more specific courses.
Finally, what can develop you professionally better than having a first-hand experience of the real thing? Get entrepreneurial and launch your own small business venture or side hustle! It will give many valuable lessons in management, marketing, finances, customer relations, graphic design and who knows what. Learn more at thepodcasthost.com and ‘How I Built This’ podcasts by Guy Raz.
👉 People management & Leadership potential
People management and leadership potential is the ability to direct others and take charge when needed. You’ll be viewed as a person with leadership potential if you’re good at inspiring and encouraging others; and if you are good at delegating tasks wisely and know who should do what to get all the tasks executed skillfully.
This is usually harder than it seems at first. It’s important to stay humble and not be afraid to say when you don’t know the answer — but be sure to go out of your way to find it as your team will rely on you.
You will help yourself massively if you identify the management style that works for you and your team early on. Everyone wants to be managed differently so you may need to adjust your style when dealing with a different member of your team. You should also develop each member of the team and their responsibilities based on their individual talents and abilities.
Practice good communication skills as your ability to give instructions and communicate ideas and responsibilities are extremely important. Be consistent and stay visible to make it easy for your team to want to follow you. Others will follow your lead if they’ll see that you are prepared to undertake any job needed to move things forward. Try to keep your team motivated and engaged — allow them to perform their roles, ask them to take ownership of certain projects, and assist and support their development. Regularly appraise their performance and acknowledge their contribution, success and hard work.
Managers work for the people as much as they work for the organisation. As one, you’ll need to ensure that your team is meeting the objectives and progressing in their roles. Be ready to be much less tolerant if something is not right as the culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour that the leader is willing to tolerate.
Good decision-makers are skilled at thinking on their feet and making changes as the circumstances change. They consider a variety of different alternatives and focus on the most informed conclusions. They usually take into account the opinions of others and do their best to accommodate everyone involved in the decision-making process.
You can practice making better decisions by applying Winston Churchill’s balance sheet method, which works well for “Should I/Should I not?” situations. Divide your page into two parts and write all the reasons to go ahead on one side, and all the reasons why not go ahead on the other, then review them all.
It’s also helpful to conduct “what if” scenarios and run through potential risks in your head before making a final decision. Considering the absolute worst scenarios can help you plan ways to avoid these situations.
Remember that not all decisions are created equal. If you minimize the time you spend making minor decisions throughout the day, you will be better equipped to make important decisions later. If you use your brain to make all kinds of irrelevant decisions throughout the day, it will make it harder for you to make good decisions for the things that really matter.
Try creating a timetable to help you carry out the decision-making process: write three to six milestones and map these against the timeline. Examples could include: ‘Analyse situation by…’, ‘Clarify goals by…’, ‘Identify alternatives by…’, ‘Decide between options by…’.
👉 Professional ethics & Social responsibility
Being socially responsible and having professional ethics is about showing respect towards others and promoting a positive, tolerant and welcoming atmosphere for those around you. It’s about having strong professional integrity and holding yourself and others accountable for their actions.
You should define your values and acknowledge what is important to you and what you represent. Do your best to express these principles consistently. Separate yourself from the opinions of others so you can stay true to yourself and others.
Always protect your integrity: if you make commitments — keep them, if you make promises — fulfill them, if you need to say something — say it and express your thoughts clearly. Get used to saying no.
Stay professional. Most occupations and sectors have a clearly defined set of professional standards that you should adhere to. Rizzardi’s summary of professional ethics explains that the core essence of professionalism can be expressed as character, competence, commitment, and courtesy. Ethics are said to be more powerful than rules too, so lead with a good character at all times.
Finally, show your support to worthwhile causes and contribute to fundraising activities. Being more generous (say, running a charity or fundraising challenge) can make you happier. But it’s not only about money, you can give back to a wider community by running effective social responsibility programmes encouraging two-way relationships between organisations and the community too.
👉 Resilience & Emotional control
Resilience means to live with purpose and commitment to achieve your goals no matter what happens. Resilient people are highly motivated, they trust their own abilities and remain calm under pressure, which makes it easier for them to handle competing demands and a ridiculous amount of workload. Moreover, these people are open to growth and continuous improvement, which makes them good at dealing with constructive criticism.
You can improve your emotional control by accepting that overcoming challenges is one of the most effective ways to grow as a person. Don’t overthink about the things that are out of your control, just think about things that you can change and focus all your energy on those!
Nowadays everyone is a perfectionist. “Upskill” suggests that resisting perfectionism can help you control your emotions better as it frequently leads to procrastination, mood swings when things don’t look as you wish, and inability to move forward with your projects. If being honest with you, my life started when I stopped demanding perfection from myself. So you might want to give this one a try too J
To develop resiliency, you can start by acknowledging all your key strengths and the things you excel at. This will give you self-belief and confidence to move forward and never give up no matter what. Creating a ‘personal why’ statement is another great way to instil a clear sense of purpose and direction. Make sure your personal goals match your personal values as this will make it easier for you to pursue them relentlessly. And make sure to reward your small wins — just to remind yourself how far you’ve come and how much closer you are getting to where you want to be.
👉 Results through action
Another personality trait that is greatly valued by managers is the ability to make things happen. These are the people who invest their time and energy to achieve the outcomes that matter to them and those around them. Having a positive mindset and challenging but realistic goals, they work relentlessly till they see things happen. They strive for excellence and are open to going the extra mile to complete the tasks on time and in full.
Allow yourself to start by clarifying what it is that needs to be delivered before starting any new project. Ask: where are we now? How did we get there? What is the problem? Where do we want to go? This will give you a clear direction of where you need to go and how you can get there.
Another great tactic is to use ACORN framework. Act as if you have already achieved the outcome. Check to ensure that you are on the right track. Fully Own it and look for Resources needed now and later. Finally, do it Now — just do it and stick with it, don’t wait for the perfect timing as it usually is Right Now anyway. Making an effort to step out of your comfort zone at least once a day will also help you drive better results.
👉 Specialist knowledge & ability
This one is the obvious one. You got to have the skills and a professional understanding of your defined area of work. If you are not there yet, then it’s time to do your best to get there.
Networking and mentoring can help you expand your knowledge and up your game. You can use social media to talk to people that work in your field or write blogs (just like I do J ) and articles for trade magazines and professional journals. This will not only keep you curious about your discipline but will also give you a strong reason to extend your knowledge and understanding. If you’re brave enough, host seminars and workshops for those who know nothing or very little about your subject. Training and teaching others it the best way to learn and improve your own mental performance. Think of the emerging trends in your field, research them and then teach others about them. Sounds like an absolute win-win to me!
Another great way to progress professionally is to select a task that you want to achieve and put a large X on your calendar for every day you work on it. The string of unbroken X’s will incentivise you to keep going.
It’s also helpful if you know what you love doing. Try to include parts of what you love into your job to keep yourself motivated. Make sure to continuously challenge yourself too. Start with clear goals, split them into sub-goals, and keep track of your progress.
👉 Teamwork & Collaboration
You probably heard this many times before. Teamwork and collaboration is THE SKILL sought after as no other. It’s all about the ability to collaborate with others effectively in order to achieve shared goals. It requires you to recognise complementary roles and acknowledge the advantage of working with different people that share different skillsets.
All teams are different and may require different approaches to succeed. Communication is always a big one here. Be clear about who does what and be open to making changes along the way. You may make your team members feel closer to each other if you engage them in unusual, challenging and exciting activities, which require working together to achieve a common goal. This can make them bond quicker.
Avoid groupthink. Make sure that everyone can present and discuss their ideas with other team members. You can generate effective relationships using a STAR technique — working together by respecting all of the following: Separateness (different perspectives), Tuning (talking and listening), Action (opportunities) and the Reason to work together.
👉 Understanding data & information
You probably already know how important data is in this time and age, so you’d at least know the basics. Learn how to access, explore, analyse and interpret data and information from a wide range of data sources.
Try picking up some data science-related courses, such as visualization, modeling, preparation, presentation and communication techniques to enhance your career. You might find it fun to learn how real-world data skills are being applied at Netflix, LinkedIn, GoodReads, or Deep Blue too…
Dealing with data requires a great level of attention to detail and organisation. You can organise the information you gather by use of location, alphabet, time, category and hierarchy. Make sure to review the information you receive to check its accuracy and validity. Cluster similar information together and try to identify patterns and trends.
At this point, the most important part about data is that you not only need to be able to gather and understand the information but also ensure that it is relevant and accurate. Be sure to dig into the credibility of the data or information you gather — who said this, what is their experience, what was their motivation at the time, etc.