A new word for ‘weakness’

We are often told we need to work on our weaknesses in order to develop our skills and progress our career; or at least traits that are labelled as ‘weaknesses’.

This isn’t the case. At the very least the word ‘weakness’ in this context needs to be re-defined to something more accurate. By way of example, a ‘weakness’ of being a poor public speaker is not a weakness. There’s a gap there – of confidence, skill, knowledge, ability, trust, authority – rather than a weakness.

A great Medium article I recently found on this topic talks about how weaknesses and strengths are the same thing, and warns us of the damage that may occur when we try to see them as two separate traits. Umair Haque writes:

“When we try to divide them, that is when we fail at both. We are principled, so we try to be less judgmental. And now we are not even principled. We are compassionate, but easily hurt, so we try to be harder, but lose our compassion.”

I thoroughly recommend reading the entire piece.

This takes me back to when I completed the 16 Personalities test, a free online test that’s based on Myers-Briggs testing (I don’t buy into the criticism that MBTI testing is similar to horoscopes – like most things in life, the results are only as strong and true as your input).

The results of the test are compiled into comprehensive lists by topic, including your weaknesses. Two of mine, as an ‘Advocate’ (INFJ, FYI) for example are: needing to have a cause in something I do and; being too sensitive.

Do these not contribute to my strengths, which, according to my results include being determined and passionate? Could they not therefore be considered as standalone strengths? Are my labelled ‘strengths’ not jeopardised if these weaknesses are worked on?

I’m interested in looking further into re-wording ‘weakness’ in the context of skills development.

In the meantime, focus on your strengths, the things you’re good at, and don’t bother too much about your ‘weaknesses’ until they have been correctly reworded.

Gracefully disruptive

Disruption is essential in the workplace when it comes to challenging the status quo (for the right reasons of course). Practices and methods become engrained into the team, into the organisation, and over time these are met with reluctance to change.

‘This is how it’s always been done’, you’re told. ‘It’s worked fine without anyone sticking their nose in’.

‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke’…and all that carry on.

In order to progress – whether it’s professionally, entrepreneurially, or at work – there needs to be disruption. I deliberately use the word ‘progress’ too, as opposed to ‘get ahead’.

Many people can get ahead without disruption. Indeed they use the status quo to their advantage by seemingly playing the safe route to get ahead.

However, by choosing this option, they miss out on the opportunities to broaden their mind, develop existing skills, and be open to new learning experiences.

Where’s the problem-solving? Where’s the creative thinking? Where’s the approach that’s right for you?

This route is too narrow, having been formed probably years ago, and one that once worked either appropriately to the time or the individual (or both).

By being disruptive, you ensure that unexplored territory is identified, examined, assessed and tried out. And with such big risks may come big rewards.

So what do I mean by disruption?

Being disruptive is not about talking the loudest or stamping your feet the hardest. It’s about applying curiosity and inquisitiveness into questioning already-mapped-out procedures, career paths, processes, ways of working, even thought processes, and seeing if there’s a better way.

‘Rocking the boat’ sounds almost destructive, and we’re not rocking it to be awkward. Where a boat rocks comes ripples that could have a detrimental impact to the ecology and banks of the river for example. Without forward thinking, this could ruin any sort of credibility to going against the status quo again.

The term I much prefer is gracefully disruptive. It’s challenging status quo with grace, with forethought and thorough consideration.

So how do you become more gracefully disruptive?

Firstly, you need to understand why you want to be disruptive, and understand when you shouldn’t be disruptive.

The latter is probably the best starting by process of elimination. When you shouldn’t be disruptive is where emotion plays a heavy part in the decision making.

Using emotion to steer your disruption won’t be graceful. Of course emotion can be the foundation of the decision-making, the stimulus that urges you to react for a greater cause or better way to do things, but you mustn’t let it rule your actions.

Emotions, most times, are temporary. Your actions can be permanent. Tread carefully – or better yet let your head determine your actions.

Having decided to take a more emotionally intelligent approach, you can move on to why you should be disruptive.

Why bother?

The very act of being gracefully disruptive itself will provide you with strong leadership capabilities.

This isn’t necessarily leadership over people (although it can be); it can be leadership over processes, your career, your fate, your confidence – anything that is within your control that you have found, over time, slowly but surely, has been consumed by the status quo, or by other people’s assumptions that their way is best.

‘You need a degree for a good job’, they say, ‘that’s the way it’s always been done if you want a decent job.’

Not true at all; you can be successful without one (while also not drowning in tens of thousands worth of debt).

‘You need to do this particular process in this particular way because that’s how it’s done.’

Not necessarily; when was the last time this process was questioned? Is there a better way we can be doing this? Isn’t it time that this process is assessed for efficiency? If new ways haven’t been explored before, isn’t it narrow minded and dismissive to insist that this one way is the way?

‘You have to stick with one job with one interest in order to do well for yourself, nobody likes a job-hopper.’

Not the case; portfolio careers have proven successful for many professionals now and indeed may help them stand out from the crowd. New learning and new experiences have led these to the point where they have a unique set of skills that play off of each other and open up new, more effective ways of doing things.

Avid Doers v The Naysayers

This is where we avid doers can do so well in. We refuse to accept that one way of doing things is the way of doing things.

We have the stubbornness and can-do attitude to make things happen, and adopting a gracefully disruptive approach to our endeavours can only lead us to things quicker, more efficiently and more effectively.

Unfortunately there will be (and are) naysayers who like things mainstream and consistent with solid, trustworthy practices, and see avid doers as being awkward or sometimes even clueless. They don’t ‘avidly do’, they passively do, and therefore dismiss any sort of alternative ways of thinking.

Let’s question how things are done. Let’s disprove that the one way is the only way.

Let’s explore new ways of doing things that are right for us and our career and developmental needs.

Think of the learning and development opportunities that would go amiss if we didn’t question what is already in front of us and instead decide what is right for us by being gracefully disruptive.

Professional development: Books or courses?

Professional development outside of work can come in many forms; some free, some not so free. Under the latter group falls books and courses, and sometimes most people aren’t aware of the subtle differences between the two, or the subtle similarities. Odds are, books are cheaper than courses but is this the only reason to choose them over courses? Or are courses more beneficial because they cost more?

Beyond the factor of cost, it’s important to weigh up the differences and similarities between these two popular options for furthering your career and professional development so that decisions aren’t made in haste or by assumptions.

Before going through these questions on books and courses, it helps if you have a topic or subject in mind, rather than a general enquiry; for example if you’re thinking of learning more about NLP.

Getting the most out of books for professional development

Books are awesome. I read a lot of them on my commute to and from work, or at home on a rainy Sunday.

It’s usually an equal mix of crime thrillers and career development books, and although I’d really enjoy telling you about the most recent whodunit I’ve just read (it was one of victims all along), I want to talk about how to figure out if an industry- or career-related book can sometimes be more beneficial than some courses.

Firstly, you need to really understand the key concepts of getting the best out of your potential book purchase:

  • What does the book promise to do? If this is not clear instantly, then it has no value to anyone
  • Will this provide me the knowledge that I’m looking for? Does this knowledge actually mean something to me, that I can use either now or in the future, or does it just explain what I might already know?
  • Will this level of knowledge suffice? For example, am I happy with the amount of information I’ll get out of it, realising it isn’t enough to warrant a qualification like I would get from a course?
  • Is the reading style to my liking? Grab a random page and read a bit. Is it too serious or does it make too many jokes? Is it poorly paced? Is the typeface too small to comfortably read on a commute for example?
  • Is the price proportionate to the advice I will get from it? It might be a useful book but does it provide £49.99 worth of solid advice, for example?
  • What do the book reviews say?
  • Will the book be handy to use for later referencing, and add to my own personal library? A good book adds meat to your knowledge toolkit (a.k.a. home library) for years to come.
  • Could I get this information from a blog for free? Usually a comprehensive subject or skill is better from a book; a quick bit of advice or ‘how to’ is best from a blog post

Now the last point might seem a low-blow to be written on a blog post but it is something that needs to be considered.

I like books as much as I like looking for information on the internet and sometimes it just makes more sense to read something up on a blog post, for example leading a brainstorming session (ahem, plug), than reading it in a book which I would use for understanding a concept or comprehensive skill, like brainstorming as a general topic but more in depth.

Getting the most out of courses for professional development

Signing up for a course is a big commitment; the benefits it can provide in terms of professional credibility (take a look at this post I wrote about the advantages of paying for your own training) need to be proportionate to the cost (in time, money and mental stamina).

Answering the questions below will help you begin to get an understanding of what the course can offer:

  • What will I be able to do when completing the course? Is this something I will need in furthering my career? Or is it something I only assume I need but isn’t necessary, ie experience is more essential than a qualification?
  • Are the course outcomes aligned to my career aspirations?
  • Is there a chance to test-drive a course – some training providers allow you to see an example of the training material. This gives you a chance to see if the material is any good or matches your expectations in terms of quality and difficulty.
  • Is the course certified ie will there be a recognised qualification at the end of it? Make sure you check that the awarding body is recognised by an awarding standards body like Ofqual or Edexel.
  • If there is a qualification, will this aid me in my career progression and take me to the next step? Or is it not really necessary?
  • Can I afford it? Am I in the position to commit to a finance/instalment plan? Is the price proportionate to the outcomes, and as expected?
  • How long will the course last? Is this a 2 or 3 month commitment or will I still be doing this for the next 2 years?
  • Will I get post-nominals as a result, or once I’ve gained membership to the relevant professional body?

Just to follow on the final point: it’s easy to be attracted to sparkly post-nominals so make sure you’re getting them for the right reasons. The biggest benefit of post-nominals, in my opinion, is that they’re an instant hook for recruiters.

Even if they only see your name in a sea of job applications, they get to see your post-nominals which immediately demonstrate your dedication and level of experience before even looking at the details of your CV.

Make sure that the post-nominals you’re going after will be able to do this, and that they’re relevant. Sparkly post-nominals are great ‘n’ all but not if they don’t contribute to your goals. Refrain from letting your ego make the decision.

MOOCs

It’s also important to explore shorter, free courses – or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These are mostly free online courses from a range of universities, colleges and vocational training providers.

I’ve used FutureLearn before and really enjoyed working through a couple of their courses so I suggest popping over there and having a look.

So, books or courses?

Once you have worked your way through the questions for both a book and a course, you should have the answers to compare the two together and begin to look at the crucial differences.

Usually as a rule of thumb if the course provides qualifications that you absolutely need then no amount of books can provide you with this. Books provide knowledge but not credentials. Which of the two is more important and aligned to your goals?

The added benefit of courses is that where there’s a course, there’s also tutor support. Books cannot provide further information or elaboration than what’s already provided. Courses on the other hand have tutor support at the end of phone or email.

They can also have an online student community to share ideas, thoughts and questions. The use and standard of these vary considerably and rely on the provider to encourage participation and engagement so don’t be thinking you’ll be making any new bezzie mates if the community isn’t strong.

If the qualification isn’t a necessity and something you don’t particularly fancy, try to not feel compelled to enrol. If you’re looking to expand your knowledge to better aid your decision making or improve your understanding of a particular topic, then the right books can provide a wealth of knowledge quite suitably.

No financial commitment beyond the initial purchase, no lengthy essays, no multiple choice questions. Books are great if you need to expand your know-how, and forking out a huge amount of money on a course isn’t entirely necessary if you aren’t looking to use those qualifications or if they don’t actually contribute to your progression.

Essentially whether you choose a course or a book, the goal is to develop and bring this back into the workplace and this can absolutely be accomplished through books.

And of course, if you’re not a book worm, course-alternatives can expand into podcasts, videos, shorter MOOCs, and other media that can provide you with just as much information.

Whichever route you choose, be aware of your motives and the level of knowledge you need. Not only will this help you make the right choice, it also means the amount of effort you put into developing your professional knowledge is proportionate to the outcome.

 

 

Finding time for CPD

By continuing your professional development, you’re not only maintaining your CPD requirements for a professional body (if you’re a member of one of course) but you’re also keeping your skills and expertise fresh. Continually expanding your breadth of knowledge, skills and abilities brings so much to your career, increases your chances to progress, and helps you learn and develop as a professional. 

But it can also be hard to factor it into your tight schedule. With work, commuting and generally having a life at home, CPD tends to fall by the wayside, something that can be picked up ‘when you get the time’. Trouble is, we all know that unless you proactively change something, that time will never come. Even when you get the time, will you remember to work on your CPD? Will you even be prepared to do it and have something in the pipeline, ready to be picked up at a moment’s notice?

I’m sure we can all relate to this, even muggin’s, someone who is passionate about learning and development. With time though, I have got to a stage where I am confidently on top of CPD, and then some. This isn’t to brag (honest), this is to demonstrate the success of the one thing I changed with my schedule to make sure I got my game on when it comes to CPD.

This change is habit.

Each one of us has a different degree of habitual nature, that is some people can pick up a habit quite quickly and get comfort out of this (if it’s a healthy habit of course), while some people need more time than others to build up a habit. Understanding which category (or where along the imaginary habitual spectrum) you consider yourself to be in will really help manage your own expectations of the time it takes you to develop a new habit, including the habit of making CPD a part of your life.

This sounds a little drastic – I’m not suggesting CPD should be the be all and end all of your life. I am suggesting though that making some sort of regular recurrence of your CPD activities means it’ll always have a place in your schedule. This has worked very well for me and have incorporated into two aspects of my life: in work and outside of work.

Habitual CPD in work

The more obvious exposures to CPD are activities at work. You can be as creative or direct as you like when it comes to making CPD a habit at work (or a bit of both). Actively finding stretch pieces of work in addition to your usual duties can be easily done if it coincides with any particular performance objectives you might have, or if there are new areas of work you would like to get involved in. The stretch work expands your knowledge, develops new and existing skills, and grows your network at work. If you’re someone who is particularly interested in developing your social capital, this is a healthy perk of keeping on top of your CPD.

With a CPD mind set, and depending on how adventurous are willing to be, setting yourself with CPD activities that deliberately get you outside of your comfort zone will help build your confidence as well as skills. Signing yourself up to, for example, public speaking opportunities or coaching someone, will really pay off in the long run. Making this a habit then means they’re no longer scary to do, they’re no longer ‘that one time you did that scary thing and have never done again’. An unexpected payoff for habitual CPD!

Before explaining how to ensure this is done to a point of forming a habit, I’ll expand on habitual CPD outside of work.

Habitual CPD outside of work 

The CIPD website has heaps of information on the different types of CPD you can do outside of work so there isn’t any point in me regurgitating their information.

You can however use this information to inspire you to think differently in terms of your overall professional goals. Understanding your professional motivation provides you a sort of compass that lets you know if a type of activity you want to habitually take up is going to lead to that goal.

This is going to be a recurring item in your schedule; you need it to be worth it in the long run. It’s outside of work and therefore in your own time so it needs to be something you really want and need to do.

For example, have you considered developing your social media presence in a professional capacity? According to Time to Log Off, in March 2017 the average time spent online in the UK per person was 83 hours; more than three quarters of this was on smartphones alone. Wouldn’t it be great if we could harness that time to something more productive than aimless scrolling? It’s already a habit you have formed but redirecting your focus on a professional capacity means that this time is spent on CPD.

It’s spent on following thought leaders, understanding hot topics in the world of HR that everyone’s talking about, taking part in debates and conversations, voicing your own opinions and thoughts so that other professionals will want to follow you. These are all fantastic CPD opportunities that lead onto MORE CPD opportunities- podcasts, books, videos, Ted Talks!

The point is that regardless of what you do (this isn’t a post that lists the types of CPD out there), you need to ensure it becomes a habit.

Making it a habit

Once you’ve established the sort of existing habits you have that can be refocused to CPD, like surfing the internet, you need to ensure the other activities you do form a habit.

Logically CPD is recorded in some sort of format. This logs all of your activities and is usually associated with being evidence to CIPD or other professional bodies that you have clocked up your CPD.

Getting the most out of this log however is part of making your CPD a habit.

Firstly, you can use the CPD log as a list of things you would like to do with completion dates.

Secondly, you can use these completion dates as entries in your work or home calendars (or both!), as well as time slots in between to remind you to work on them, so that there is a concrete commitment and reminder that this needs to be done. The additional benefit of this is that you begin associating activities as being CPD-eligible. Half the time, we forget what actually constitutes as a CPD activity, for example reading a topical article in a magazine. It all counts.

Then thirdly, you use the same log as a reflective log.

Reflective log

Please do not underestimate the benefit of reflection, and in turn a reflection log. Whether an activity taught you loads, or was complete and utter rubbish, going through the motions of recording your reflection makes you reflect on it – you need to come up with an entry after all. Putting pen to paper makes you start thinking how you intend to use what you have learned into the workplace or professional life, the very point of CPD.

How you structure this log is up to you – I split a spreadsheet in two sections. One on the left to record upcoming, past and ongoing CPD, explaining the reasons why I want to do these; and then one on the right as a reflection of the activity once completed.

Again though, this needs to be updated and worked on habitually, and like including completion dates in your calendar, having a infinitely recurring entry to ‘update CPD log’ means it becomes part of your schedule.

As mentioned, depending on where you sit on the habitual spectrum, it may take time for this to become a habit. Keep with it. Incorporate it into your schedule ensuring that CPD is an ongoing developmental aid, and not just something you need to produce evidence off at the last minute when requested to do so. It’s for you, after all; not them.

 

When work won’t pay for training

As avid doers, we love a good course: a structured and linear progression towards a shiny new qualification (and even a shinier post-nominal) which gives us more competence and confidence in a particular topic, and which will lead to promotions, your own executive office and world domination.

Just one snag – work won’t pay for it. It might be development that you can bring back into your job (even at a push, I’m sure the principles behind crochet can be applied to the corporate world) but for one reason or another, work are unable to fund it.

Perfect. By the way, if there was a grammatical way to type a word that doesn’t sound sarcastic, I could have done with it there. It really is a blessing in disguise that work won’t pay for training or a course, or in other words, that you have to fund it yourself. If you have your heart set for a particular course, and a particular topic you want to develop, then you would be doing it one way or another anyway (if you’re as stubborn as me).

You see, funding your own course has so many benefits:

  • you get to choose how you want to take the course (online, classroom, weekends, evening)
  • you get to choose the course to complete. The topic doesn’t therefore necessarily need to relate directly (or at all) to you current role
  • you get to choose the provider. If the topic is offered from a number of course providers, you can choose the one that suits your needs, budget, membership benefits and general preference.
  • you have no obligation to finish the course if it’s a load of pants (I’d strongly recommend you finish it anyway but you won’t feel obliged to do it because work are paying for it)
  • the sense of accomplishment when you complete the course feels so much stronger knowing that it was on your own steam than if you did it as part of work
  • you have no strings attached to your employer. You could leave your company the day after you completed the course without any guilt (or debt if your company has a clause that repayment needs to be made within a certain time after the course if you leave)
  • but the best benefit of funding your own training is that it shows absolute professional determination and initiative to your current, and future employers

Professional determination and initiative 

I cannot begin to tell you how good this will look to your current and future employers as it really illustrates your determination and perseverance. In interviews you get to also explain why you funded it yourself – not “oh, them there wouldn’t pay for it! Grr!” – but that you assessed your own skills and abilities, you understood what was required of you in this, and any future role, and you proactively sought to bridge that gap by taking the course by any means necessary.

It’s also important to remember that taking a course or enrolling on any sort of training doesn’t always have to improve your career prospects. This might initially sound contradicting to the whole ethos of The Avid Doer ie career progression and getting where you want to be professionally. To me though, I believe you can progress and develop yourself without necessarily having better career prospects as an end goal (new job, promotion etc.), but instead so you can progress and develop in your own role. These additional skills help boost your productivity, performance, efficiency and confidence in your current role, and really make it your own.

Unrelated qualifications

This approach also explains to employers why you underwent seemingly unrelated qualifications to the current role as it was appropriate at the time to learn that particular skill even though it wouldn’t have led to better prospects.

For example, if someone wanting to work their way up in accountancy but has a qualification in marketing, it’s still worth mentioning why they decided to train in that, which clears up any doubt of in their dedication to the field but also recognises a qualification they would have still worked hard for.

Of course you will have to be selective in which ones you decide to include, but you need to identify which skills you picked up during, and as a result of, completing the unrelated qualification are transferable to your current or prospective role.

But when it comes to your existing employer not paying for the unrelated qualification, you can still follow this process of identifying the transferable skills and how they will play a part in your existing role.

“But courses are expensive” 

I hear that. Funding your own training does, obviously and non-figuratively come at a cost. It also relies heavily on your personal and financial circumstances.

Luckily, training online, or “distance learning” keeps costs down, and most even allow students to pay for the course in installments. And most will even qualify you to be an actual student ie student card discounts!

Other qualifications also allow people to just sit the exams; the Certified Insurance Institute for example have exam areas around the UK for people to complete their tests. Before this, those sitting the exam would have just needed to buy the relevant books and studied that way, rather than just enrolling in a course. So the total cost would just be the books and the exam fee. However if you’re the sort that needs a tutor to talk you through the content or to motivate you into completing chapters etc. this self-learning approach might not suit you.

I am a huge fan of learning and development (“L&D” in the bizz) and also of distance learning, so much so that it’s worthy of its own post which I will be publishing soon. I’ll be writing about picking the right course, finding the right way of doing it, making the time and tips on self-discipline.

In the meantime look at what’s available out there; I think you’ll find they’re a lot more affordable than you realise. Of course before you commit to any financial commitment like an installment plan, you should always do your sums and seek professional financial advice if appropriate. You should also assess the amount of return on investment ie will the benefits of gaining this qualification outweigh the cost and time it will take to complete it.

If it is an expensive course, the benefits really need to be tangible to your existing role (or your career aspirations) and speaking with your manager will help eliminate the possibility that the course isn’t necessary for your existing role (which might have been the reason why they decided not to fund your course).

So that’s why all is not lost if work decide they’re not footing the bill for your course. Dare I say it’s better they’re not paying for it as by funding it yourself, you add so much weight to the qualification, demonstrating to your current and future employers that you have the get-up-and-go to learn what you need and want to learn come what may. It also demonstrates you’re not one for giving up at the first sign of resistance and instead find other ways to develop yourself.