In his recent podcast on Embracing a Growth Mindset, Mike Robbins said something that made me shout out loud, “That’s it!!” He said (something like), “When people ask me for advice on career development, I tell them the most powerful thing they can do is to make a commitment to their ongoing personal growth and development….to deepen their own self-awareness.”

I’m fully aligned with Mike on this and have been expressing this sentiment for years, but in a much more roundabout way. I love the clarity and directness of Mike’s wording, and it led me to this idea: Personal development is career development.

The goal of my self-coaching work is to help people tap further into their potential by becoming more self-aware. Deepening one’s self-knowledge is an important aspect of taking ownership of one’s career. That’s what will make learning to be one’s own coach such a potent cornerstone of the next generation of career development.

As this idea (that personal development is career development) is not yet mainstream, personal development is underrepresented in today’s career development mosaic. This gap provides HR and Learning & Development professionals an exciting opportunity to experiment with innovative approaches for bringing personal development into the workplace to support employee career growth. Self-coaching is one innovative approach to consider.

Career Development – Three Pillars

Although a bit simplified, I think that a robust approach to career development has three main pillars. They are (1) Identifying career goals and/or a vision, (2) developing technical/functional skills, and (3) working on behaviors and thought patterns.

1 – Identifying Career Goals and/or a Vision

In order to engage in meaningful career development efforts, it is helpful to set goals and honestly assess where one wants to go. Many organizations have this pillar reasonably well covered and provide career development plans where employees can document their goals and discuss them with their managers.

2 – Developing Technical/Functional Skills

In some organizations, developing technical/functional skills is referred to as working on “the what” of one’s career development (i.e., “what” a person does). This may start with a gap analysis to determine where a person is today vs. her/his stated career goals or vision.

Gaps become the fodder for identifying appropriate development actions. For instance, an individual may need to deepen his skill set with certain platforms or tools. Another individual may need to broaden her understanding of other parts of her department to become more holistic in her thinking and planning. Regardless of the particulars, the main point is for each person to create a plan—and execute on it—to close those skill-based gaps.

3 – Working on Behaviors and Thought Patterns

Some organizations refer to working on behaviors and thought patterns as working on “the how” of one’s career development (i.e., “how” a person gets work done). Tying back to the premise of this article, I see this pillar as personal development, or development of the self.

Of the three pillars, this one often gets the least amount of attention and support within organizations.

I believe this is tied to the still somewhat prevalent idea that personal development is only applicable outside the realm of the workplace. It’s “personal,” hence not “business.” This is an outdated philosophy that needs to be further challenged.

While increasing numbers of organizations are more open to embracing personal development, it may still not get the attention it deserves because (a) modifying behaviors and thought patterns is inherently complex and (b) unlike more measurable or skill/knowledge-based outcomes, personal development may feel squishy and hard to define.

The world continues to change rapidly and it’s time for this type of career development to have its day in the sun. The head of HR at one of my clients said it well, “What could be more important to employees in taking ownership of their careers than learning to see where their behaviors get in their own way… and giving them tools to address that?”(Read more in my February, 2016 blog entitled Self-Coaching – Empowering Employees to Take Ownership of Their Careers.)


The Bottom Line

Personal development is career development.

Personal development is intensely important to one’s professional path regardless of one’s specific career goals.

Other than identifying career goals and/or a career vision, the one thing a person can control is how s/he “shows up” at work. This includes how s/he behaves, how s/he interacts with others, and how s/he manages her/himself, etc. Giving people the chance— and the support—to better understand their blind spots, self-limiting beliefs or stories, for example, may be the most important thing that today’s enlightened organizations can do to help individuals shape their career trajectories.

 For Further Reflection

For individuals: What practices will you commit to in order to learn more about yourself and start making shifts toward being your best, most successful self?

For organizations: What innovative approaches will you experiment with to offer powerful personal development opportunities to your employees to help them take more ownership of their careers and become more successful, not only at work, but in all aspects of their lives?