Personal Development Strategies for Leaders

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As a lab manager, you wouldn’t have reached this level of leadership without the benefit of intrinsic motivation – that burning internal drive to strive to do more, to contribute more, to implement positive changes. But if it is the inner fire, what is the fuel that feeds the fire? This is no different from the development strategies leaders work so hard to provide for their people, and their own leadership development is at the heart of it. To continue to strive, contribute and create change, leaders must have the opportunity to increase their knowledge, develop new skills and strengthen their own commitment. But, like most things, 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the way everyone has approached development strategies, both for their staff and for themselves.

Zig Ziglar’s famous quote says, “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is not training them and keeping them.” Watching good employees struggle and disengage causes many managers to focus on taking care of their people’s needs and neglect their own goals and aspirations. While this is sometimes a necessary and admirable trait of a great leader, it comes at a cost. Effective leaders learn to replace “or” with “and”. There are certain strategies to help leaders focus on their team and continue to grow and progress as well.

Without conference or travel opportunities, lab leaders must be creative in their personal development strategies. At the height of the pandemic, some organizations had the option of purchasing learning suites online or converting their team development modules to digital format. However, it took time and money. As organizations struggled financially to cope with service and manufacturing cutbacks, which in some cases required furloughed employees, every dollar counted and education was often sacrificed for these pressing business needs.

If there are no conferences to attend, how do we bring the conferences to us? Fortunately, many professional organizations have mobilized and created virtual conferences. These were organized by committed volunteers on a variety of topics for ‘just in time’ learning, many of which focused on leadership development. Industry vendors have also offered support by offering free online technical training and passes to virtual seminars, some of them with equipment and instrument screens, allowing leaders to continue to keep abreast of technical progress. Other managers tapped into their inner flame and created their own development opportunities. Podcasts, YouTube education, blogs, and reading materials have grown significantly. However, self-learning is often not as engaging as active learning with others. So how can lab managers stay actively engaged?

The link between personal and professional growth

Both professionally and personally, many managers have found deep satisfaction in volunteering. Actor Will Smith said: “If you’re not making someone else’s life better, then you’re wasting your time. Your life will become better by improving the lives of others. There are countless opportunities to increase life satisfaction by volunteering in local civic organizations, professional organizations, or the community where you live. In a time of limited resources, all organizations would love to receive help, no matter how small. Those who are intrinsically motivated report receiving a benefit from volunteering, sometimes 10 times greater than their contributions. It’s an opportunity to expand your skills, expand your comfort zone in a safe place, and work outside of the all-too-familiar workplace, which can fuel internal fires.

Volunteering for professional organizations can lead to significant professional growth. This is most impactful for new managers who want to find a mentor or want to learn and practice leadership skills to apply in their professional roles with greater confidence and success. By simply attending (now virtual) meetings, you will be introduced to like-minded people who often face the same management challenges as you, or who have been through similar situations and who can guide you. Often serving in one organization will create opportunities in other organizations. This will increase your professional footprint and create even more opportunities. You will develop lasting relationships with some of the most talented professionals in the industry, both inside and outside your community. These experts become friends with a wealth of knowledge that you can tap into anytime for advice and networking. After all, it’s been said that it’s not always what you know, but who you know that will help you take the next big step in your career.

Continuing education

Another way to stay inherently engaged in your career is to increase your formal education. It might be time to go back to that bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate you intended to complete years ago. With the push to bring education online, there is now a huge choice of programs, and you are not confined to your local college or university. Many of these programs are geared towards the adult learner and have reasonable payment plans. Reach out to other leaders in your profession to find out which graduate degrees have best helped them in their professional development.

Maybe in your profession there are additional certifications you can earn that will set you apart from your colleagues, increasing your success. One such example is in the field of medical laboratory management, the Diplomate in Laboratory Management certification. Considered the most prestigious and demanding of all American Society for Clinical Pathology certifications, there have only been approximately 1,100 diplomats in the United States since its inception in 1989. These types of certifications are available in all industries.

Additional certificates that will enhance your management role exist in the areas of human resources certificates or professional coaching. Many of these certifications can be individualized to fit a specific management area that interests you. For example, Laboratory manager will launch the Lab Manager Academy later this year, offering lab professionals the opportunity to earn a lab management certification or take on-demand courses on topics including positive communication, performance reviews, making difficult decisions, among others. You never know what the future holds, but the more diverse knowledge and interests you have outside of your main job, the more likely you are to find new opportunities that can lead you down the path to success that you would never have imagined before.

Paulo Coelho, author of several novels including the alchemist, said: “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us also becomes better.” This is why leadership development is so important. Although you may have to step out of your organization to find it, there are so many opportunities for development. If you’re wondering, “what’s next?” start talking to people you consider successful; figure out what they are doing that keeps their fire burning. Dip your toe into some volunteer activities. Surround yourself with positive people who also love to serve and grow. Take a class or two. Ask if you can have 15 minutes with the leaders of your organization and find out what they have done to create joy and success in their lives. You never know – your next gas station and your best release may be a phone call away. It only takes a moment of need or courage to make the call.

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