Managing Yourself – Step 8: Diversify Your Skillset

This GovLoop series on “Managing Yourself” provides readers with the right skills, tools and mindset to be proactive about their development and as a way to thrive and succeed, both professionally and personally. Thus far, we’ve covered “Knowing Thyself,” “Goal Setting,” “Time Management,” “Executive Presence,” “Effective Networking” and “Developing Charm.” Our post this week is the next step in your roadmap for success: diversify your skillset.

Some Great Advice

I had an advisor in college who I ate lunch with at least once a week. He constantly challenged the way I thought, particularly how I thought about my future. My goal was to be gainfully employed in an interesting job and his goal was to help get me there. One day he told me that instead of focusing my limited time, energy and resources at being the best, I should instead focus on being diversified and unique.

Please note: he did not mean that I should be careless and lazy and not try to perform the best I could! What he meant was that I shouldn’t waste valuable time, energy and resources getting marginal returns on loads of extra effort by trying to be the best. Instead, I should use every resource at my disposal to get all the necessary experiences to be unique and valuable in the workforce.

This is the example from his life: a long and successful academic and business career serving in both domestic and international positions. He openly admitted that he didn’t get where he was by being the greatest agronomist, or the greatest statistician or by knowing the French language better than anyone else. He got to where he was because he was a good agronomist, who understood and could teach statistics and who could read/write/speak French. Make sense?

So how can we best use his model?

It all Starts with Your Goals

A few weeks back, we posted an article on goal setting. Before we can embark on a journey we need to first know where we want to end up. By understanding that first, we can create our development plans towards meeting those ends.

Another alternative, if you want to rise through the ranks of government leadership, is to gear your goals towards the core qualifications of the Senior Executive Service:

  1. Leading Change (EQ1)
  2. Leading People (EQ2)
  3. Results Driven (EQ3)
  4. Business Acumen (EQ4)
  5. Building Coalitions (EQ5)

Whichever route you choose doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you have a route towards a goal! Then it’s up to you to find the right development opportunities.

5 Professional Development Ideas

Often, our current positions don’t provide the training and development required to reach the next step. So below are some ideas to get you thinking about what you can complete via “extra-curricular activities” or include on your next IDP! Each idea is tied to potential executive core qualifications. Also, think about how each can support your own goals!

  1. Serve on a board of directors (EQ1, EQ2, EQ3, EQ4 and EQ5). There are many opportunities out there to serve organizations in your community. From professional associations to college fraternities/sororities, to your agency’s credit union. Serving on a board demonstrates leadership and volunteer ethic. It also gives valuable lessons in everything from management and strategic planning to finance. Want to take it a step further, serve on the executive board!
  2. Write and publish (EQ1 and EQ2). This doesn’t always have to mean books. You can apply to become a GovLoop Featured Contributor, contribute posts on LinkedIn or review trade material within your industry and submit articles to quarterly publications or reviews to academic journals. Writing and publishing demonstrates your desire for continued learning and as well as the commitment to being a thought leader.
  3. Work in a detail opportunity (EQ1 and EQ3). Agencies are always looking for talent to help meet critical needs. Many have dedicated websites where opportunities are posted. If you’re more tech savvy, there are always postings on Digital.gov (I’m currently serving on a detail via this website). Opportunities like these do not have to be full-time endeavors for months on end. You can work on them a few hours a week while remaining in your current job.
  4. Attend conferences (EQ1, EQ2 and EQ3). This includes professional, technical and academic gatherings (GovLoop conference listing). And don’t just attend them, apply beforehand to present a research topic or poster. Or, if you’re a little unsure of that, you can always start with moderating a breakout room. These activities are valued contributions and look great on a CV! Plus you’ll get the opportunity to meet other thought leaders in your industry.
  5. Complete a certification (EQ1, EQ2, EQ3, EQ4 and EQ5). You don’t always have to get a complete college degree to become credentialed or gain the right experiences. For example, to learn about working with people you could become a trained mediator or complete MBTI® training to learn how to lead and work with teams (EQ2 and EQ5). Or you can complete a massive online open course (MOOC) to gain certification in a technical skill like project management (EQ5) or strategic planning (EQ4). Many of these are free or provided online at a minimal cost.

Wrapping It All Up

The vast majority of us will have to develop a large skillset to compete and succeed in the modern workplace. So, once we reach a good level of competency, we should begin diversifying our experiences to ensure we remain relevant to our industries. On-the-job training doesn’t always provide this, so alternative methods of getting the development are necessary.

Next Week – Step 9: Be a “Real Leader”

Brian Baskerville is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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