Time and again I hear early- and mid-career communications professionals talking about having trouble finding someone to truly learn from in their workplace. They mention functional leads who are unavailable or lack backgrounds in PR or voice concerns about their lack of personal growth and development or interesting work. PR leaders do indeed have a responsibility to their teams, but all too often the demands from executive management or business development create a requirement that commands 110 percent of their time. Additionally, developing others is not always an accountability that functional leads are good at or fits within the framework of priorities that they are measured upon on any given day. It would be nice if all communications leaders took leadership to the level of personal involvement in developing their teams, but it is all too often not the case.
So what is a communications professional supposed to do when their direct or indirect leader fails in taking the time and focus to mentor and coach them? I have always said that development is a very personal responsibility. After all, there is no one size fits all and we are each at different points along a development continuum, which by definition takes into consideration our personal and professional goals. It’s never productive to complain about lack of leadership, but ultimately we do all have choices. In my view it comes down to having a high degree of self-awareness, organizational acumen, a zeal for learning and recognition that relationships matter. By thinking about these factors in the context of your own professional development, you’ll be surprised at the roadmap it can provide in developing your own personal plan.
Let’s talk first about self-awareness – in other words what am I good at, what I am not so good at, what is important to me in a job, what do I like to do and what is expected of me? Each of these things will change with time and experiences and circumstances, so it’s incumbent upon each of us to take stock of where we stand regularly – and by engaging close-in colleagues we can gut check our own reading. By doing so, we can create an objective understanding of ourselves and utilize our personal form of understanding of ourselves to plot a course forward.
I define organizational acumen as the ability to see, understand and apply lessons about how meaningful work gets accomplished in an organization. Invariably, it’s the subtleties and nuances of organizational behavior that has significant implications for how to be successful in getting things done. After all, if we buy into the fact that “it’s really about the work and the impact I am having” we need every tool in our arsenal to make it work. Some professionals are naturals at this and for others it’s completely foreign. It’s a leaned (most often not taught) skill and experiencing different organizational environments increases the opportunity to expand this frame of reference. Having noted this, it’s an area we all can improve upon and observing and partnering with others is a good place to start.
Learning starts when we come out of the womb and does not cease until the day we depart from this earth. It is through careful listening and a personal motivation to succeed that we can chart this course. Development comes in many forms and if you are not getting support for it from your immediate supervisor there are many avenues you can seek. Yes, people in businesses are busy, but the best ones will make time for you if your approach is on target. It’s the effort required in finding others who will take the time and who can impart assistance in your career that matters. Additionally, the best professionals seek experiences beyond the boundaries of their own enterprise to gain development. After all, not all of the best ideas emanate from where you work today and the only way you build a broader frame of reference is to seek it out.
So, as we begin to understand our personal role in our own development, one key constant must be at the forefront of your planning – relationships matter most. Whether they be with a college professor, a former colleague or boss, a neighbor or friend, or whatever – professionals who attend to relationships with an eye toward maintaining them for the long term fare better in the world of professional public relations/communications. Helping colleagues in need, keeping in touch with past associates who are high achievers are among many things that can be done to maintain longer term relationships.
So in summary no matter where you are in your professional career, whether or not you have the kind of leadership in your immediate supervisor or the functional lead that you desire, it still remains your responsibility to seek out development on your own. There are many avenues to choose from – ongoing education, seminars, organizations, not for profits, etc. The key is to recognize what underpins development – self-awareness, organizational acumen, a zest for learning and a commitment to interpersonal relationships. Instead of complaining about lack of direction, resources and support it’s simply much more productive to focus on that which we can control. It provides the framework for your development plan – something which we should all have.
Matt Gonring has led the communications/marketing function as a corporate officer for six large corporations over the past 25 years and has been a member of graduate faculty at both Northwestern and George Washington University.