The Growing Professional

Part 2

We introduced the concept of what I call the growing professional last week.  A growing professional is a professional who is dedicated to personal growth and development over the course of his or her career.  I’ve said numerous times that the instant that a professional believes that he or she has “arrived” is the instant that decline begins.  The life of a professional is a journey and not a destination. It is a journey filled with growth.

Three Types of Professionals

Before we talk more about the growing professional, let’s look at a picture of what I’m talking about, beginning with the question: “What kind of professional do you want to be?”

growing professional

The world is not simple, and cannot be easily categorized.  However, for purposes of  illustration, let’s assume there are three kinds of professionals: the Going Nowhere Professional, the Typical Professional, and the Growing Professional.  Clearly, however, as shown in the chart, there are many gradations in life, and many degrees of success as a professional.

The chart is not specific regarding a particular measure of success.  Success for a growing professional is based on how we define it as individuals.  The chart shows a break between the Past and the Future, which is Now for each professional reading this post.  You are where you are at the present.  You can’t change the past.  But you can change the future by what you do in the future Nows in your life.  Also shown in the chart are two terms, “deliberate practice” and “fallback activities.  We will discuss these concept below, but first, let’s examine the three types professionals.

  1. The Going Nowhere Professional. Look at the bottom line in the chart above.  This professional may have ten or twenty or more years of experience.  He may have been around for  very long time, but he just doesn’t grow.  The problem is that he has had the same year of experience repeated ten or twenty times.  And he can expect, unless he changes things in his professional life, to continue repeating that year of experience.  You may know someone like that.
  2. The Typical Professional.  Refer to the middle lines in the chart.  Many professionals work some to improve themselves and achieve reasonable, or typical levels of success.  Typical professionals are focused on growth, at least to a certain extent.  They do some of the things necessary to grow, but perhaps without consistency or persistency.  Typical professionals indeed achieve some measure of success over the course of career, and often substantial success.
  3. The Growing Professional. Now look at the top lines in the chart above.  Growing professionals tend to stand out from the crowd.  They do so because they focus on personal growth with persistency and with passion.  Growing professionals can envision their future selves and work today to create that vision one project, learning experience, or activity at a time.  The growing professional invested yesterday, is investing today, and will invest tomorrow to realize a compounding effect in success measures for these efforts.  The compounding effect that reinvestment has for growing professionals is illustrated in the chart.

It is the growing professional that we are talking about today.

The RISKs of a Growing Professional

In Part 1 to this series, we noted that the present value of a growing professional is based on what he or she has has done in the past.  If that is the case, it makes sense to be doing now, those things that will create future professional value.

In business valuation, we are familiar with the concept of risk and the corresponding return awarded by the markets for risks taken by investors and business owners.  In our professional lives, we also have to assume risks.  These risks relate to our time and effort toward growth, rather than our financial resources.  Using RISK as an acrostic, let’s examine the RISKs of a growing professional.

The R in RISK Stands for Responsibility.

Let’s be clear about responsibility.

  • You are responsible for your own work and how you present yourself to the world.  I’ve always accepted responsibility for my work, probably based on early training from my parents.  For me, I moved solidly onto the path of a growing professional in the mid-1970s when I made a conscious decision – and developed what is now a natural habit – of presenting myself as an optimistic person to the world.  Things began to change for me at that time.
  • You are responsible for your portion of the work of your firm. And you are responsible for how you present your firm to the world.  If you are in a firm, you have to take responsibility for your share of the work.  That might involve your direct efforts or working with others.  Importantly, it is important to present both yourself and your firm to the world in the best possible life.  When I was hiring professionals for Mercer Capital (others have long ago assumed that responsibility, thankfully), it was a red flag for me when a candidate ran his or her previous (or current) firm into the ground.  If they would do that for another firm, how would they present Mercer Capital to the world?  I didn’t want to find out.
  • You are responsible for teaching and mentoring others.  I say that teaching and mentoring others is important for two primary reasons.  First, I’m grateful for the various mentors in my life who have let me come along beside them for periods of time and to learn from them.  Second, teaching and helping others is a source of very real personal growth.
  • And finally, in this list, You are responsible for your own growth.

Responsibility begins with your management of Time.  I read a book, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, in the 1970s that had a significant impact on me.  Alan Lakein, the author, said:

Time = Life.  Waste your time and waste your life.  Master your time and master your life.

That quote is profound, but it is not actionable.  The thing I remember most vividly from the book is what he referred to as Lakein’s Question, which is:

What’s the best use of my time right now?

As professionals, we all bill time to client projects.  When you are billable, you are generating revenue for yourself or your firm.  The questions are:

  • Will you do good work when you are billable?  That is certainly a key for growing professionals.  But we all come to natural breaks in billing activity.  Each of those breaks is an ideal time to ask Lakein’s Question:
  • What’s the best use of my time right now?

I believe in developing a set of activities that I refer to as “fallback activities.”  A fallback activity is a project or initiative designed to create a building block on your resume or for your firm.  These activities are called fallback activities because you can quickly revert to them when you reach a natural break in billable efforts.  The idea is to make the change almost seamlessly so that you don’t lose valuable time wondering what you will work on.  You already know if you have a couple of productive fallback activities in process.

Fallback activities virtually all relate to personal or firm development, or both.  Over the years, I’ve written a couple of hundred articles, given at least that many speeches, written hundreds of blog posts and eight books.  These additions to my resume are a direct result of successful implementation of fallback activities.  Sometimes the fallback activities relate to firm development such as seeing clients or prospects or calling them or writing for firm publications.  We have to pay attention to clients and prospects.

I realized long ago that I don’t care if clients think about me or Mercer Capital all the time.  I just want them to think about us at the moment they have a need for our services.  So we continually do things to help keep us in the forefront of our clients’ minds.

There is a second term in the chart above, that of “deliberate practice.”  Somewhere in the past, I heard the following and have never forgotten it.

Practice does not make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.

Said another way, going through the motions of trying to grow won’t take you where you want to go.  You have to do the right things over a long enough period of time for the compounding effect of your efforts to occur.

The following is from an article with deliberate practice in its title (emphasis in original).

To learn any new skill or gain expertise you need to practice, practice, practice. There isn’t much debate about that.

But here’s what you might not know: scientific research shows that the quality of your practice is just as important as the quantity.

And, more interestingly, these scientists also believe that expert-level performance is primarily the result of expert-level practice NOT due to innate talent.

This concept is known as deliberate practice, and it’s incredibly powerful.

Use my term of fallback activities or the term deliberate practice, whichever works for you.  In order to get on the path or stay on the path of a growing professional, we must design a practice routine that works for each of us.  That’s where Lakein’s Question can come in handy for you as it has for me.  Ask yourself, when you are not billable, “What is the best use of my time right now?”   Then is the time to plant seeds of future success.  A giant oak tree is the result of planting a lone acorn – a long time ago.

We need to plant acorns today and every day, literally, so that the compounding effect of growth over time can benefit us.

Many have heard of Parkinson’s Law.  C. Northcote Parkinson, writing in 1955 about the British government bureaucracy, said:

Work expands to fill the time available [for its completion].

And we are all familiar with the Pareto Principle, or the so-called 80-20 rule.  In business, the Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the benefit of work is derived from 20% of the effort.  Stated alternatively as what I call the Reverse Pareto Principle, only 20% of the benefit comes from 80% of the effort.

If we combine Parkinson’s Law with the Reverse Pareto Principle, we get the professional’s nightmare of being busier and stuck doing the wrong things!  Growing professionals avoid this trap if possible, or get out of it as soon as possible if they find themselves in it, as we all do from time to time.

Growing professionals assume responsibility for their personal and professional development.  We now close this discussion of the R for Responsibility in RISK.  In Part 3, we will examine I for Integrity, S for Specialization, and K for Kaizen.

In the meantime, be well,



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