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Why Professional Growth Is Critical to a Successful Career: Talking Shop

ByChad Brooks, Last Modified
Jun 26, 2019
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Performance expert Bill Eckstrom discusses the importance of professional growth and how to attain it.

Whether you're an employee or a manager, personal and professional growth may be the key to your long-term success. Even if you feel like you are in a good spot in your career, if you aren't seeking opportunities for growth, you could be hurting your chances for future success.

Bill Eckstrom

Bill Eckstrom is the president and founder of the EcSell Institute, which helps managers, executives, and organizations grow by providing research, data, and clarity into how their teams are performing. Eckstrom believes that when you aren't growing, you're stuck in a cycle that eventually leads to stagnation. It's searching out development opportunities, whether they be on the job or off, that can break the cycle and get you moving forward again.

In addition to individuals benefiting from seeking out opportunities for growth, Eckstrom says, organizations as a whole reap similar benefits.

We recently had the chance to speak with Eckstrom about professional growth, how it relates to professional development and the steps you should take if you feel you aren't growing.

What is professional growth?

Q: How do you define professional growth? Does it have to take place in the classroom? Can it take place on the job?  

A: The way I view professional growth is the development or better use of talents and skills that lead to improved outcomes. This development can take place in many differing places – on the job or [in] off-the-job environments. 

On the job can be the result of experiential learning, coaching relationships, classroom, etc. However, too often people view professional growth as something that is only on the job, but it is not. For example, one of our executive leaders became a certified yoga instructor, and we have all benefited from her growth. She is more calm under fire, she has taught us more patience, and she is a better overall coach. 

Q: How is professional growth different from professional development? 

A: I understand why this can be confusing. Here is how the EcSell Institute views this: Development is the process that leads to growth. Growth is an outcome, and development is the input or the action that creates it.

Q: Should you expect professional growth to lead directly to a promotion? 

A: While perhaps correlated, they have little to do with each other. The best companies with whom we work weave professional growth into the fabric of their culture. It is not something that is done just for a promotion; it is done because, environmentally, people want to grow. 

People in these environments have an aversion to order and stagnation. This is why doing career development plans is so critical. It provides an opportunity to focus on growth and not just a promotion. If growth leads to a promotion, so be it, but everyone from the front line to the top execs should be looking for ways to improve their own performance – regardless of the corporate-ladder outcome.

Q: What are the negatives that come from not growing professionally? 

A: Too much order leads to stagnation. Doing the same thing over and over again (order) will eventually lead to no growth, and no growth is typically followed by stagnation (negative growth). What breaks this cycle are complexity environments created by changing inputs. The challenge is, complexity environments create discomfort, and as a result, people avoid them. The irony is that growth only occurs in a state of discomfort. We get very in-depth on this topic in our book, The Coaching Effect

How to grow professionally 

Q: Where should you look for opportunities for professional growth? 

A: Chances are one's opportunities for growth are nearby. Watch and learn from bosses (however, it is likely only 40% of them are worthy of emulating), meet with friends and ask questions, and ask family and close work peers about your growth opportunities.  

Attend association meetings and events. While there, don't just learn about the latest market news – focus on your own self-improvement. Read books, watch videos (like this TEDx Talk called "Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life"), or hire your own coach like I did. There are really no excuses; if one looks hard enough, they will find wonderful opportunities for self-improvement.

Q: What type of professional growth goals should you be setting for yourself? 

A: I believe these to be unique to the individual. Personally, I categorize my goals into mental, intellectual and physical, but obviously, there are unique ways to grow within each. 

To attain mental growth, I meditate, journal and list gratitudes five days a week. Physical development consists of working with a trainer two days a week and walking another two or three days. For intellectual development, I am always reading a book or watching a video that stretches the way I think. 

Q: What steps should you take if you feel you are stuck and aren't growing professionally? 

A: Some sort of disruption needs to occur. What I always say is one must find a way to get out of order and find a way to enter the complexity environment. This can be accomplished by finding new or differing work, new classroom learning, a new boss, or a new attitude. 

The key is not letting it get so bad that one hits rock bottom before change occurs. Intellectual understanding (consciousness of your perceived reality) doesn't often lead to disruption as much as being emotionally ready; however, this typically happens when one hits rock bottom. We need to be emotionally aware enough to know when we reach this crossroads.

Rapid-fire questions

Q: What piece of technology could you not live without? 

A: Technology is morphing into us as human beings, and while perhaps for the better, it also hinders human relational interactions. Don't misunderstand – my phone goes with me most everywhere and I have a tablet next to my bed, and while it would bother me if they were lost, it would not cripple me. 

Q: What is the best piece of career advice you have ever been given? 

A: Not sure where it came from, but it was the epiphany that all team growth begins with me. I try very hard to always be developing new and existing skills and talents, because the performance of a team is always a reflection of how they are coached. 

Q: What's the best book or blog you've read this year?

A: Origin by Dan Brown comes to mind as an interesting book. Certainly not his best work, but like I mentioned earlier, he challenges the way I think about things.  

For blogs, anything written by Dr. Peter Jensen's company, Performance Coaching. He is a renowned Olympic sports psychologist, and I learn so much from his work. 

Q: What's the biggest risk you've taken professionally? Did it pay off? 

A: Starting this company, EcSell Institute. I sunk almost every penny I had into this business and realized the old cliche was true – it will take three times as long and cost three times as much. And in spite of this, it has paid off. 

I also realize this type of risk isn't for everyone. People think I was brave to do this, but one could also legitimately argue I was stupid, and both would be right. 

Q: What's the one thing you want to make sure you accomplish this year? 

A: Being more present. I write the word "presence" every morning when I journal and work hard to live this every day. My mind does an amazing job of moving forward and backward, but it needs to be more in the now. I am already seeing and feeling improvement of moving from my subconscious thinking to more conscious thinking.

Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks
See Chad Brooks's Profile
Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has spent more than 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014.
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