Your professional development is up to you in today’s work world! Even though organizations are investing more in training and development, today’s executives expect proof that dollars spent result in demonstrable business results - promoting the organization’s overall strategy, enhancing shareholder value, increased sales, producing better products, etc.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to take charge of your professional development is your own job security. You will mitigate the chances of being "downsized" when you become master the "Top Ten" list below. And if you are laid off, you will be way ahead of the curve managing the difficult transition.

What skills should you develop or strengthen in a workplace that is undergoing a “personality” change as we speak - Baby Boomers starting to retire and Gen X’ers beginning to take over senior management positions? Who, besides your mentor, will be looking out for your professional development needs? The answer is: You Will!

The Professional Development Needs
Identified as Unique to
Women Managers

Interviews about professional development needs with training and human resource directors at dozens of Fortune 500 companies reveal that while women generally have a comparable command of core competencies and work as hard as men, they aren’t as savvy as men in such intangibles as building office alliances, managing their reputation and participating in office politics and power games. According to them, women managers need help with the following:

Building successful relationships- 93% of HR directors interviewed said women need coaching in networking and how to establish a group of trusted peers and superiors they can turn to for frank feedback. (Refer to mentoring.)

Exerting influence and converting others to their ideas- Again, 93% indicated that women need help understanding how their style and behavior, as well as their self-confidence, impact the way their ideas are perceived. (Refer to aligning your personality with your corporate culture.)

Taking initiative- Social conditioning makes it hard for many women to proactively seek and demonstrate accountability. Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents said that women need to seek new challenges, meet objectives and “trumpet” their accomplishments. (See below)

Managing difficult conversations- Another 79% said women need to learn how to give and receive feedback, resolve conflicts and convey constructive criticism, especially with men. (Refer to conflict resolution and business women.)

Promoting their own careers- Women are not generally as quick as men to grab opportunity according to 71% of respondents. (This is what we will address here!)

Establishing work-life balance- Women often have trouble setting boundaries and take on extraordinary burdens that leave them taxed on all fronts. (Refer to work-life balance.)

Other professional development needs this group identified included: knowing how to network, knowing how to ask for what you want and need, knowing how to focus, and knowing how to listen.

What Professional Development Needs
Women Managers Themselves
Identify Most Often

Executive coaches tell the Wall Street Journal the reasons career women clients most often seek their help for professional development needs, and what they recommend they do.

Being heard- In group meetings (often mostly men) men regularly interrupt each other, which women consider impolite. Coaches recommend that women engage in the same interrupting behavior initially, then propose a ground rule of not interrupting. Another way to boost your visibility is to stand up or sit upright – take up more space and appear bigger. As a matter of executive presence and getting your message across, speak in a low-pitched voice slowly!

Looking and acting the part- Be like a swan – calm on the surface, but paddling like mad underneath. Fidgeting, finger-tapping and other behaviors can detract from your authority. Try wearing your watch on the opposite wrist you’re accustomed to wearing it on as a subtle reminder to keep your hands still or off the table.

Focusing on the big picture- Some women tend to concentrate so much on getting the job done that they neglect big-picture thinking. You need to be able to point to where you made a difference - if you weren’t in your job, something positively impacting the organization wouldn’t have happened. Recruit a friend or colleague to help ensure you make time to step back for strategic perspective. (Your mentor is the perfect person to help you here.)

How to Make
Smart Professional Development Decisions

Woven throughout your work life, you make decisions and take actions that are influenced heavily by whether or not they will serve your career well. These professional development decisions always will be based on:

The traditional “career ladder” belongs in the Smithsonian Institute! Over the past few decades, so many rungs have gone missing that today’s women managers face a new reality: a strategic career move isn’t necessarily always going to be up. It can also be sideways.

Your “Top Ten” To Do List
For Professional Development

Few Human Resources executives, and even fewer executive career coaches, have actually served time in the management trenches. Remember the old saw: “Them that can, do. Them that can’t, teach”? With all due respect to HR execs and career coaches, nothing beats experience when it comes to giving advice on professional development that really works.

Having served my time in the trenches, worked my way up what’s left of the “career ladder”, mentored managers, and then coached teams from other companies, I learned that the following ten professional development activities are key to keeping your career moving in the right direction – ahead!

  • Become expert at self-coaching
  • Identify your personal values
  • Practice goal-setting
  • Develop your workplace “brand”
  • Learn what to learn and keep on learning
  • Become a networking pro
  • Become a change agent
  • Expand your comfort zone
  • Put balance in your life
  • Know when, why and how to make a career or job change

If you can master the above professional development skills, you will become an influential businesswoman!

Why Become an Expert in
the Art of Self-Coaching?

Senior management – still usually men – typically chooses who receives professional development and executive coaching. They often select the up-and-comers to whom they relate best: other men. This, according to the Wall Street Journal, suggests that the playing field is not quite level for women seeking to advance in management.

Today’s organizational world has no time for women or men who sit back and wait for someone else to show them the way. It’s up to each individual, regardless of how long they’ve been working, to learn self-coaching to achieve their professional goals.

Which then begs the questions “What professional development opportunities are women managers missing out on and what do we do about it”?

Professional Development Begins
With Your Personal Values

Your values are made up of everything that has happened to you in your life and include influences from: your parents and family, your religious affiliation, your friends and peers, your education, reading and more. Truly effective and influential people recognize these environmental influences and identify and develop a clear, concise and meaningful set of values/beliefs, and priorities. Once defined, values impact every aspect of your personal life and professional development choices.

  • You demonstrate and model your values in action in your behaviors, decision-making, contributions and interpersonal interactions.
  • You use your values to make decisions about priorities in your daily work and personal life.
  • Your goals and life purpose are grounded in your values.

Choose the values that are most important to you, the values you believe in and that define your character. Then live them visibly every day. Living your values helps you be the person you want to be, helps you accomplish your goals and dreams and helps you lead and influence others.

The Role of Goal-Setting
In Professional Development

Start your professional development process with goal-setting. If you don’t know where you want to go, how will you know if you’re on the right track or when you’ve reached your goal?

Goals can be powerful, victory-building tools! But set them carefully. If they are too high, you’ll become frustrated, fatigued and want to give up. It you set your goals too low, you’ll lose your motivation. The trick is to ensure your goals serve as a vehicle to achieve success, rather than just a yardstick for measuring achievement.

Market and Promote Yourself
By Developing Your Workplace Brand

Branding can be described as many things, but it’s best defined as a promise: a promise of the value of the product and a promise that the product is better than all competing products. Branding is a combination of tangible and intangible characteristics that make a brand unique. Branding is developing an image – with results to match! Branding is the core of professional development.

Tom Peters, in his book The Brand You (Reinventing Work): Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself from an “Employee” into a Brand that Shouts Distinction, Commitment and Passion!, states that “Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me, Inc.” He adds, “You are not defined by your job title and you’re not confined by your job description”.

Why should you care about your workplace brand? Because people return over and over again to brands they trust, to brands that are worth their time and brands that promise value. When this becomes your brand, you become an influential woman in management!

Always Keep Learning

Women used to complete their education and then got a job using the skills they’d learned. They could be reasonably confident those skills would serve them well for a pretty long time and, as long as they applied them adequately, showed up regularly, and knew the right people, they’d keep moving up in their organizations until they were ready to retire.

Not any more! Experts predict women will change careers, much less jobs, five or six times during their working lives, which is why professional development is so critical.

Today’s skills may be obsolete next month; your company may be sold, acquired or merged, possibly eliminating your job. So in addition to career advancement considerations, there are survival issues too. Today, the only way to advance is to learn something new at every opportunity every day – being a learning person - so you’ll be prepared if something happens beyond your control, or if there’s an opportunity you want to jump on.

With the increasing popularity of e-training, the question ask yourself how you learn best. Does distance learning work well for you or do you prefer personal interaction in a classroom setting?

Following is a list of companies that provide both e-training and live seminars and workshops. (Don't forget that a live event offers you the bonus of a networking opportunity.)

Become a Networking Dynamo

“Effective business networking is the linking together of individuals (and businesses) who, through trust and relationship-building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another”. (

Before you say “But I don’t have a network”, “I’m uncomfortable using people that way”, “I hate asking for help with business issues”, or “I’m no good at networking”, answer the following question: Do you like people?

If your answer is yes, you’re already ahead of the game. Liking people is at the heart of good conversation which is effectively networking. If you think people are nice, helpful, interesting, or informative — you’ll want to talk with them. They will know it and like it. You've already connected with them. Now make yourself memorable to them and insure that developing a professional network is high on your professional development agenda.

Become an Change Agent

As economic swings, new competitive pressures, globalization of the marketplace and corporate and government reshaping gains momentum, your organization won’t survive if it changes too slowly, or worse yet, doesn’t change at all.

There are three general drivers of change:

  • People: the more people there are in the world, the more new ideas, competition for resources and new products there will be.

  • Technology: the rate of technological change will follow population growth trends.

  • Information: the amount of information available in the world is doubling in less than every five years. More knowledge and information is reaching more people faster than ever before.

Resisting change does more harm than good – to you and your organization. Part of your professional development includes learning to change a little ahead of time instead of waiting to see what will happen. By becoming a change agent you learn what could be coming so you can anticipate the changes that will occur and rise to the occasion.

Expand Your Comfort Zone

You have the most to learn from people who are least like you! There are at least two workforces in most organizations today: the emerging and the traditional. To the twenty-somethings (emerging), the forty-somethings (traditional) are uncool. To the forty-somethings, the twenty-somethings are frustratingly inexperienced.

Understand what, in general, makes each workforce tick. Briefly, the emerging workforce is motivated by mentoring, education and career opportunities. They take personal responsibility for career growth, prefer peer management and define loyalty as accomplishment. Work for them is an opportunity to grow.

The traditional workforce is motivated by job security. They believe the employer is responsible for career growth, prefer paternal management styles and define loyalty as tenure. Work for them is an opportunity for income.

While it may require you to expand your comfort zone, bridging the gap between the two workforces creates a best-of-both-worlds hybrid, blending the experience of one with the energy and tech savvy of the other, stimulates personal and organizational growth and eliminates conflict.

Put Balance in Your Life

When you realize that a lack of balance downgrades your effectiveness, it helps you decide to make putting balance in your life a priority. Linda Stroh, Director of Workplace Studies at Loyola University surveyed 900 managers and concluded that “we are so seduced by the financial, social and emotional rewards of working and by what we can achieve that we are overworking”.

Work life balance is about making choices that will be made for you if you don’t make yourself. Two high-profile women executives shared their choices.

Dawn Lepore, EVP with Charles Schwab, said that “Balance is less about striving for some elusive state of equilibrium than about making an explicit series of choices”. She chooses to be less tolerant of activities that aren’t a good use of her time and as a result, has become a better delegator.

Patti Manual, COO of Spring Long Distance, said that “Balance is about understanding all the roles I play and not letting any one of them become dominant”. She simply refuses to become a workaholic because workaholics are not business successes.

Take Initiative

In today’s organizations, initiative is about work that needs to be done but can’t necessarily be predicted in advance and doesn’t fit neatly into anyone’s particular job description. It’s work that gets done only when someone steps forward to do it. Initiative generally includes the following:

  • Doing something above and beyond your job description

  • Helping other people with their jobs

  • Taking risks

  • Seeing an activity through to a successful conclusion

Guidelines for taking initiative:

  • First, make sure you are fulfilling your job responsibilities well.

  • Social initiatives don’t count for much in the grand scheme of things (planning the company picnic).

  • The kind of initiatives that really matter to your career are those that relate to the organization’s core mission. Find out what promotes that core mission and tie your initiatives to it.

Understanding how to take the initiative is an integral part of your professional development.

The Ultimate Goal
of Professional Development is
Getting Ahead!

Always remember the one fundamental rule in management that will never change: Women who get results will get ahead!

As part of your professional development, I would coach you to start by taking an objective look at yourself and other top performers in your organization and then ask yourself:

  • Am I doing everything other top performers are doing?

  • Am I doing anything that’s getting in my way?

  • Is there anything about my style that’s holding me back?

Six myths, facts, lessons and recommended actions to get ahead:

Myth: Getting ahead is a reward for past performance.
Fact: The context is as important as the job’s content. Someone could be promoted because he or she is more available than a more talented candidate who can’t make an immediate move.
Lesson: Opportunity plays a critical role in deciding who gets ahead.
Action: Create opportunities! Try volunteering for a cross-functional task force.

Myth: Promotion is about matching skills with a clearly defined position.
Fact: Often it’s the job that is tailored to fit the candidate because promotions are so dynamic – new positions are created, existing positions reinvented, positions are so new they can’t be clearly defined.
Lesson: Jobs are flexible and often adapted to match candidates’ skills. There is a lot of customization going on, particularly in higher managerial levels.
Action: Propose your own job. Study the organizational needs and strategies and, if you have a skill in a particularly important area, make a case for a job that capitalizes on your talents.

Myth: If you get a five-star review, you will get promoted.
Fact: Performance appraisals aren’t all that important when it comes to promotions. Hiring managers tend to rely on their intuition and others’ opinions. (Information work is hard to define and it’s difficult to measure individual performance when so much of it involves teams, extended time frames and complex business situations.)
Lesson: Decision-makers use their gut instincts and past relationships, with you and people who know you, to predict your chances for success.
Action: Change how you think about performance appraisals. Make them an opportunity to talk with your boss about potential roadblocks to promotion and how to overcome them. Getting and responding to feedback helps build your relationship and shows you can learn from experience and change.

Myth: Promotions are all alike – the boss finds the best person for the job.
Fact: Everyone feels promotions are alike except for theirs so there’s really no such thing as a typical promotion. Today’s promotions can be:

  • Promotions in place (an incumbent expands a job and gets a title that acknowledges increased responsibility).
  • Developmental promotions (grooms a top performer for a top position).
  • Promotions as a result of reorganization (restructuring creates new positions and there are many candidates for each).
Lesson: Promotions differ in terms of how vacancies develop, the number of candidates considered, corporate objectives for the person or position, and whether the chosen candidate has been groomed for the job.
Action: Study the lay of the land and check how people in your organization are promoted so you can see how to make various scenarios work for you.

Myth: Most decision-makers look for the same qualities when promoting people.
Fact: Work ethic, preparation, potential and past results all figure prominently, but don’t ignore politics. Hiring managers place a big premium on their own personal comfort with a candidate for a job. They look for people they can trust. Managers who get promoted are more than just talented, they’re politically savvy.
Lesson: Your style, the way you present yourself, your communication skills, and your business savvy are all as important as your performance.
Action: More than who you know, it’s who knows you. Share your really important accomplishments with those who do the promoting.

Myth: When you’re up for a promotion, you’re competing against lots of other people.
Fact: Ideally, the purpose of the selection process is to pick the best person from a pool of applicants. But most of the time, it really is wired. Many hiring managers know exactly whom they want to promote and only that person really gets consideration. Why? The person who gets the job has worked with the hiring manager before and the comfort level is there. So why bother? Organizations still need to convince themselves that they’ve found the right person.
Lesson: It’s rare that a promotion is a true contest among candidates.
Action: Increase your visibility. In 81% of cases surveyed, the people who were promoted had some sort of mentoring relationship with someone higher in the organization who spread the news about them.

A Final Thought on
Professional Development

According to the most recent State of the Industry Report released by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), average organizational spending per employee on professional development is $1000. You’re career is worth a lot more than that. So take charge of your own professional development, learn to coach yourself and make the most of your opportunity as a new woman manager!