Australian Government,  Blog post,  Communications professional,  Leadership

A 2021 challenge: personal development

I didn’t realise how important it was to do personal development until I had to pay for it myself.

When working in government I took it for granted (I see that now) that I could do a course or attend a conference if I wanted to, so I rarely did it. I never had time. I always thought I would do it next year. And then there was no next year, and I had all of these skills that I wanted to brush up on and new things I needed to learn and had to invest in it myself.

It means that I don’t do “leadership for executives” or “writing in the APS style” courses anymore. Now, I only do courses that I think will challenge me professionally or those I recognise are areas I need to build my confidence in. It means I do things I am interested in, rather than those that the HR team decides I need because I am a certain level. This was both really empowering and really frustrating (because I wish I realised this earlier).

Training is often not tailored to you

Often in government, we are required to join one of the courses being offered in-house or our boss suggests one of the general courses. These are often not aligned with our needs. I don’t remember ever being asked: “what are the changes you can see coming in your profession, and how can we ensure you are ready to work in that environment?”.

I got told often that I was a pretty good team leader, yet every year had to attend leadership training. I didn’t want to learn to write like a public servant, I wanted to write like the audiences I was trying to communicate to.

Never was it suggested that I up my skills in digital marketing, AI, social media analytics or digital content – these were not seen as critical skills, despite a career in communications.

PD doesn’t mean a conference

I used to think that to do personal development, I had to take a day out of the office. I had to go to a multi-day conference or a full-day training course in another state. Who has time for that! It would just mean more work for the rest of the week. Now that I am in control of my own learning, I have found that I get just as much out of reading more books, watching videos, or joining a webinar.

Reading books like Permission to screw up by Kristen Hadeed, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, Start with Why by Simon Sinek and (my current book) Radical Candor by Kim Scott have taught me more about leadership than any of the courses I attended in 12 years in the public service.

There is still a place for classroom-style learning. Once a year, I will attend a course, but I take the time to find the right one, from an amazing provider who helps me to build skills in an area that I need to refine.

Communications isn’t stagnant

Almost no other professional needs to undertake continuous learning like communications. Our industry is constantly changing. Unless we get out there and learn about the new developments, skills and techniques, we will fall behind. Every day you stay in your ‘work bubble’ surrounded by the same people, ideas, priorities, and pressures, you will become more stagnant.

2021 challenge

This is my 2021 challenge to you. Stop putting off doing personal development. Do it today.

  • Ask your boss if you can order a book for the team to read and discuss (like a book club).
  • Do a skills assessment to see where you need to upskill – The UK Government has a good capability framework for communications professionals that might help get you started.
  • Join IABC who offer a range of professional development courses during the year.
  • Sign up to a webinar during your lunch break.

Commit to one thing a month. That’s all it needs to be. Carve out the time for you.

It’s on you

You need to push yourself to learn more, upskill, think different. You need to do some personal reflection and figure out where you need to develop and how you can best do it to suit your needs. If you just go with the flow or wait for someone else to tell you what development to do, then you will just do the generic courses, go to the conferences you are told to go to, and not necessarily become a better professional or leader.

Don’t wait until you have to pay for it yourself. Never a better time than at the beginning of the year to sign up for something new, set a goal, identify a need.

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