The last couple of months I have been discussing different ways to develop your leadership skills and potential. My vision for 2014 is: Make 2014 a year to dream big and make it happen! I would like to share a few ways to develop a career plan using different formats. Similar to a test document, a career plan is a living document – it will change as your skills mature and new opportunities arise. In Tea-time With Testers, January 2012 issue, I wrote an article called: Developing a Career Plan. Refer to this issue to read my original article, as this posting will focus on career development from leadership skills and opportunities. Whereas the article in Tea-time With Testers is focused from both a managerial and employee perspective.
I strongly believe in taking responsibility for developing your career – many managers may not meet with you to develop a plan – do not let this stop you from furthering your career. Some people prefer a formal plan where they define goals, steps, timelines, and milestones. Periodically they revise the plan for progress and any revisions. Others prefer an informal approach where they identify skills and knowledge to improve but not specific steps to meet them. The plan may be documented in a word document, mindmap, or a spreadsheet. Regardless of your approach, the end-result of career planning should be skills and knowledge improvement and not a formal document that requires a lot of maintenance that might not help improve your skills and opportunities. The following sections provide suggestions to get started with developing your leadership plan.
What is my 5-Year Goal?
In order to understand our career aspirations, many start with the question “where do I want to be in 5-years”. This can be a difficult question to answer with evolving technology providing new opportunities. Plus sometimes we are not aware of the potential opportunities leading us down more generic paths such as “I would like to be a better leader”. That is not a bad starting point but challenge yourself to think more deeply about what that statement really means.
A better question might be: how satisfied are you, with where you are at: with your leadership skills? with your leadership opportunities? Additional questions could include:
- What do I enjoy most about leading a project? Leading a team? Developing a team?
- If you could change something about your leadership style, what would it be?
- What project did you feel professional satisfaction, from a leadership perspective, and why?
- Based upon what you would change:
- What skills do you need to improve?
- What knowledge do you require?
- What opportunities would be helpful?
How Much Do You Understand About Different Leadership Styles?
To further define learning opportunities, consider the following questions.
- Whose leadership do I admire that I should spend time studying?
- Is there a leadership conference that I can attend?
- If I were to read one book on leadership this year, what book would I read?
- Who in the company I am employed do I admire for his/her leadership skills? Can I meet with that person to learn more about what makes them a strong leader?
What are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?
Sometimes this is an easy question to answer, as we might be aware of our capabilities and limitations. It can be helpful to create a list of strengths and weaknesses. Review the list of strengths to determine if you are capitalizing upon them. If the answer is no, what needs to change? Identify ways to bring those strengths into your testing. Sometimes a strength can be overused becoming a weakness. Do you have any of those?
Is there a weakness that might hinder career progression? A tester may be capitalizing upon his strengths but the weakness can be reducing promotional potential. For example, if he cannot make a presentation to a management group might make him less influential in the company. Review the list of weaknesses and only work on the ones that can sidetrack a career. Everyone has weaknesses and it is not necessary to improve all of them. Be selective on what strengths and weaknesses you capitalize upon based upon career aspirations.
What Tools Can You Use?
I have found that a journal can be helpful to document what you have learned and areas for improvement. Every night write in the journal a lesson learned and something to do differently. For example, if a difficult conversation with a developer went well, identify why it went well to help you in the future. Perhaps you did more preparation for the meeting or were able to remain calm while discussing the testing results. Periodically review the journal to reflect upon the lessons learned to ensure they are being integrated into the appropriate projects.
A strength-based approach, discussed in two popular books, can be adopted that provides both an assessment and program to follow. The book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. has an Internet-based StrengthsFinder® Profile to identify your top 5 strengths. This book provides a brief overview of the strengths categories and how to use them for personal and professional development. Marcus Buckingham follow-up book “GO Put Your Strengths to Work” provides a short survey to determine how engaged your strengths are being utilized at the beginning and end of the program. A six-step, six-week plan helps a tester identify approaches to incorporate strengths into the workweek and manage weaknesses that may be damaging.
A career plan can include information such as goals, milestones, skill-gaps, knowledge-gaps, and training needs. In a later posting I will be sharing a format of a career plan that you can adopt and modify for your own needs.
How Can You Measure Progress?
It is important to periodically review a career plan to understand progression toward the goals and to determine if any corrective action is necessary. A career plan should be a living document that evolves with developing skills.
In future postings I will share different formats on how you might document and manage your career plan. Let me know how you develop your skills; whether you have a formal plan or capitalize upon opportunities as they arise.