Investing with a Guaranteed Return

Fourth quarter is well underway and as you prepare for annual reviews, budget setting, and forecasts, it’s also time to reflect on where you spent time this year. How much of your time did you spend putting out fires and chasing solutions to problems? How much time did you spend making strategic moves that will pay dividends for years to come? How often did you devote time to mindfulness and reflection? Lastly, how much of your time did you spend building new skills?

Training and coaching for leaders is often overlooked when most of a company’s development budget is spent on entry-level skills, team-building, and compliance. Organizations face a unique challenge in today’s talent marketplace where there is a clear and disturbing skills gap at the entry level, and also a significant need to train emerging leaders and high potentials that have been overlooked while their Baby Boomer predecessors failed to mentor and transfer knowledge.

When we talk about the skills gap today, it may sound like the sky is falling (for example, 0% of high school graduates are rated as having excellent critical thinking skills) but the reality is even more dramatic. The sky is falling and we’re dodging sink holes as the same time. Because recruiters are having trouble finding candidates with the basic skills necessary for success, the talent being on-boarded to your company today require remedial training to overcome the lack of skills-based education their received. And at the same time, the Gen Y leaders who are stepping up to take over leadership roles left vacant from the Baby Boomer exodus are generally unprepared to handle a volatile, complex, uncertain workplace. In most companies, there just isn’t enough budget to address both crises.

So, what does that mean for you? You can’t throw your hands in the air and admit defeat for your professional development. Certainly you can and should demand coaching and formal leadership training for yourself and your high potentials. Shout the need for a training budget from the rooftops. Often, managers try to save the company money by not using their training budget, even when funds have been allocated. Be vocal and specific about the development needs and do the work to identify tools/programs/resources that are likely to pay off.

But if that doesn’t work, open your wallet.

 If there’s one investment you make this year, invest in yourself. If you aren’t willing to invest in your own future, who else will? If you’re confident that you can and will use what you learn to become a better leader, make better decisions, and think more strategically, then investing in your own development is a no-brainer.

  • Start by analyzing where you would benefit the most from development. For example, if you are a strong leader, but your professional network is small and shallow, purchase a membership to your industry’s professional group. If that group holds meetings or conferences, make time to attend those meetings and be willing to travel as necessary. The relationships you build during those events and at the Happy Hours afterwards could help you examine your current challenges through new eyes.
  • Consider a 360-degree evaluation. A 360 will give you much more honest and direct feedback than simply asking your direct reports where you need to invest more time. You might also want to take some self-report assessments. Be sure you know who you are before you decide who you want to be in the future. “The self is the greatest teacher: The more you dig, the more you learn” – Russell Simmons.
  • Lastly, remember that not every form of skills development requires swiping a credit card. Some solutions just require you to invest time. Spending time with a mentor, reading up on industry news, and networking through social media are all free, but require consistent follow-through and mental energy.

There’s no excuse for failing to advance your skills and professional development. As Warren Buffet said “There’s one investment that supersedes all others: Invest in yourself.”