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Own Your Professional Development

This article was based on episode 186 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the full episode guide when you become a member at Purchase any full episode guide at

Question: Who is responsible for your professional development?

Answer: You.

Implication: As a manager, your team members are responsible for guiding their own professional development.

If you’ve followed my work for a while, this may seem like a surprise given my stance that managers need to invest in their team members. So here’s the thing: yes, managers need to create the context for growth, but it’s up to the individual to take ownership over it.

Unfortunately, many organization’s don’t have a system for professional development that addresses more than performance issues. Professional development opportunities are often one-offs, such as attending a conference or taking an online course. Instead, we need to invest strategically by creating an Individual Development Plan (IDP). Luckily, creating an IDP doesn't need to be complicated or time consuming.


Like any plan, goals are at the center. Without clear development goals, it’s impossible to know which development opportunities to take advantage of or which skills to improve. IDPs work for both short and long-term professional goals. To determine your goals, ask yourself two questions:

Where do I want to be in five to ten years? Dream a little about what role, title, job activities and lifestyle you’re aiming for. This will help you determine your long-term career aspirations.

What do I need to overcome in order to be more effective and satisfied at work right now? Reflect on your current situation to identify immediate opportunities to improve. You can also use prior performance feedback or ask colleagues what they see as areas for your growth.


To get to where you want to go, you’re likely going to need to gain more knowledge, learn new skills, or get more experience. Let your goals drive the specifics so that you’re investing your time and money in ways that will move you in the right direction. Consider the following:

What information do you need to learn in order to achieve your dreams? This may be related to the industry you work in or a functional speciality. For example, you may need to complete a certification or familiarize yourself with industry regulations.

What skills or competencies do you need to develop? Consider both soft and hard skills needed to succeed in your goals.

What experiences do you need to have? Sometimes the best type of learning is experience-based; out in the real world, you can learn in a deep way how to deal with a difficult employee or lead a global team.

To help answer these questions, you can analyze job descriptions for potential dream jobs, observe others who are in positions you desire and reflect on what makes them good at their job, and interview individuals who hold similar positions to get their perspective.


Straightforward goals and metrics are the best way to measure success. These can be either quantitative or quantitative. Externally-validated metrics for success may be confirmation from a boss that you have achieved your goal or passing a test. Internal validation comes from within and is about how you feel of your own abilities.


Now it’s time to put your IDP into action. Brainstorm different ways you can acquire the needed knowledge, skills, and experience such as reading a book, taking a course, hiring a coach, getting an accountability partner, or practicing in the real world.

Remember, IDPs aren’t statements; they’re living documents. That means they need to be constantly updated and revised as you try out new steps, achieve goals, and change your mind about what you want. Be open to checking in with the plan every month or quarter to update the actions taken, measuring progress towards goals, and adding new ones.


Even the most amazing rockstar manager can only do so much. Your team needs to individually take ownership for their growth and success. Discuss IDPs with your team and work with them on developing their own. Brainstorm about their future goals and offer them feedback for ways that they could improve. Share insights you have into what knowledge, skills, and experience might benefit them. Offer to be their accountability coach and help secure any budget they need for their career development. Be sure to check in with them monthly to track progress.

Taking the time to create an IDP is well worth the effort. When people can drive their professional growth, they feel the most satisfied and energized at work. So what are you waiting for? Make IDPs a standard part of professional development for yourself and your team.

Get the full episode guide when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at Or, purchase an individual episode guide at to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.

This article was based on episode 186 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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