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Use Intention to Drive Ongoing Professional Development

| April 18, 2023

by MOR Associates

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Dave Long, Associate Director of Enterprise Instructional Technology in the ITS Office of Teaching, Learning and Technology at the University of Iowa.  Dave is a MOR alum, he may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.]
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a MOR graduation ceremony for an on-campus cohort at Iowa.  The energy and excitement in the room was palpable as people shared out their biggest “ah-ha” moments from the MOR program, such as getting up on the balcony to take a strategic view, using the three lenses to analyze a problem from different viewpoints, using the four I’s (initiate, inquire, invest, influence) to build relationships, being intentional about the use of their time, or mapping stakeholder’s needs and interest levels to help move a project forward.  It was clear the recent MOR ITLP graduates were excited to get out in the world and apply their newly honed leadership skills. 
As we walked out of the graduation ceremony, I reflected on my own graduation from the MOR ITLP program in 2012, and began to wonder: how do you keep that energy going?  How do you sustain a continued drive for professional development, developing talent in yourself, in your team, or in others in your organization?
Post-graduation, it is easy to get sidetracked.  To let the immediate push the important to the bottom of your to-do list, to let dust collect on your MOR binder, to slide back into old habits and let new the leaderly habits you practiced fade away.  Personally, the structure, length, and immersion of the MOR ITLP program is one that helped me grow and develop a wealth of new leadership skills.  An “ah-ha” moment for me after graduating was that I needed to be intentional about continuing my own professional development.  
A few key realizations that helped me establish a plan were:  
You Are Responsible for Your Continued Professional Development

  • You can create your own structure to motivate yourself to develop skills.  The Influencer book from Vital Smarts has been a useful model for motivating myself to stick with it, this PDF has a short recap, though the book (and course, if available in your area) is excellent as well.  
  • If you don’t choose what to focus on for self-improvement, someone or something will choose for you.  And those external priorities may not align with your internal priorities.

Cultivate a Growth Mindset

  • Develop a growth mindset to recognize that you can develop your own skills and talents “…through hard work, the right strategies, and guidance from others.”
  • As captured in this interview with Steve Jobs, once you realize that “…everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.  And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” the world begins to look like a different place.

Be Intentional, Do Epic Things

  • Leadership is a contact sport, so get busy living or get busy dying.  
  • 20 years from now, what do you want to reflect on, and say “That was fantastic!  We really came together and did great work with that initiative, which set us up for future success in other areas!”?  Thinking about the narrative you’ll tell in the future; how can you start building towards that story now?
  • Be intentional in choosing between mediocrity and greatness.  We each have greatness in us, don’t be afraid to do the hard work others are not interested in doing.

Now, broad generalizations are all fine and good, but I can hear some of you saying “But Dave, I don’t have time for all this grandiose talk, what are some specific / operational things I can start doing today?”
Well, here are a few specific ideas / prompts:

  • Identify a leadership skill to focus on, then incorporate a reminder of that skill into your password/passphrase.
    • How many times do you log in to websites or computers with your university account each day?
    • Would incorporating terms like “bemoreintentional25” or “GetOnTheBalcony!” help remind you of specific leadership concepts that you want to focus on?
  • Set aside time to develop a leadership skill inventory. 
    • What skills are you good at / have you mastered already?  What skills do you feel you are weakest in? 
    • Pick one or two to focus on over the next few months, be specific in setting your goals.
    • If you have taken StrengthsFinder 2.0, return to that book and review the results, what are steps you can take to improve your existing strengths?
  • Consider who in your field you admire for their exemplary leadership skills.
    • What career paths did they take to arrive where they are?  What skills did they develop?
    • Adopt the mindset that, it’s not that others are smarter than you, but that they have read some books and practiced some skills that you haven’t yet encountered.
  • Keep a journal / notebook of useful insights from leadership articles, resources, meeting notes, etc.
    • Using a searchable program (OneNote, EverNote, etc) can help you navigate the resources you collect.   
    • Take notes and save links (LinkedIn Learning videos, online articles, etc.) in your notebook as you find them. Add to and curate this over time, and circle back around occasionally to refresh yourself on various topics.     
    • Over time, you’ll build a customized library of leadership content that is of interest and applicable to you.
  • Turn off new email notifications on your computer/phone, and any non-essential notifications on your phone. 
    • Who drives the cadence of your day?  Who controls where your attention (and, by extension, intention, time, energy, emotion, and future) is focused? 
    • Who is really in charge of your attention, you as a person with a lot of good things to contribute to the world around you, or your email/phone/social media/non-critical notifications?
      • As Kara Swisher mentioned in her fireside chat at EDUCAUSE 2022, social media can turn us into “small, twitchy, angry people.” 
    • By extension, the flood of notifications can pull us away from the time and space that is needed for strategic planning, long-form creative thinking, or in-depth problem analysis.  Utilizing defensive calendaring and lowering the number of notifications can help provide that time and space.  
  • Get involved to practice new leadership skills, add value, and build relationships.  
    • Find a community group, social group, student organization, or other venue where you can practice leadership skills that are new to you.  Having a space to practice new leadership skills can help make it easier to apply those new leadership skills in a work environment.
    • What groups (EDUCAUSE Connect, EDUCAUSE Mentoring, community groups or project teams at your own institution, cross-institution consortiums, vendor communities, etc.) can you get involved with, where you can add value, invest in relationships, and build influence? 
    • If you scan the external environment, what gaps do you see where a community group might be beneficial, and could you start one yourself?  
  • Find resources available at your institution that can further your own professional development.
    • This could be resources like LinkedIn Learning, material from your university Library, or staff development courses.
    • Is there an academic course at your institution you could sit in on / audit that would help build your skills in a certain topic?
  • Be aggressively biased towards action, be the one to make things happen.
    • If you find yourself in a scenario where everyone is talking about it, but nobody is getting it done, find ways that you can step into the gap to help move the effort/project/work forward.
    • To couple two quotes together:
      • If not now, then when?  If not you, then who? – Kailash Satyarthi
      • Be the change you wish to see in the world. – Arleen Lorrance

We are each responsible for our own professional development, no one is coming to do this work for you.  Be intentional about your professional development, so that you continue to build new skills, and have a positive impact on the world around you.
Onwards and upwards,   

This Week’s Survey

Which of the specific ideas shared in this article resonate with you the most?

  • Identify a leadership skill to focus on and incorporate that into your password/passphrase.

  • Set aside time to develop a leadership skill inventory.  

  • Consider who in your field you admire for their exemplary leadership skills.

  • Keep a journal of useful insights.Turn off any non-essential notifications on your phone.  

  • Get involved.

  • Find resources to further your own professional development.

  • Be aggressively biased towards action.
  • From Last Week
    Two weeks ago we asked how you generally remind yourself of how your work relates to leading at your institution.

    40% said a weekly planning practice.
    6% said a daily check-in/alignment to priorities.
    12% said others regularly help them see how their work connects.
    18% said a variety of other things.
    24% said they don’t regularly spend the time to remind themselves.

    As with so many other dimensions of leading, so often it is not one singular practice that enables an outcome, but finding the practice or collection of practices that enables the desired outcome.  The weekly planning practice is a common way to intentionally focus on alignment, but it is not the only way.  For the roughly one in every four of us who do not have a regular practice for such intentional focus, in some cases the work itself may have a clear and self-evident alignment that doesn’t require much additional reflection, or perhaps the path is well-worn and the alignment has occurred over time.  Or, perhaps there is the opportunity to more intentionally align our work and our priorities.  We hope today’s reading provides some further opportunities to think through your own development in a way that strengthens that alignment.