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Professional growth is, by its very nature, not a static process. You won’t be successful just by sitting around waiting for positive change to happen. To become a better leader, a stronger manager and a more valuable employee, you must take the initiative to challenge yourself continuously. This means you need to push the boundaries of your comfort zone and set concrete goals to maximize your professional development and benefit your organization.

But where should you start? Taking the first step is often the hardest part of taking on a challenge. Start with these five simple tips and you’ll be on your way in no time.

1. Start small and grow.
If you have ever made a list of big, ambitious goals, you probably know that it can seem overwhelming at first. In fact, many people are so intimidated by this phase that they stop before even taking any action. To avoid this situation, start with one, small, manageable goal. For example, if your overall professional development objective is to strengthen your public speaking and presentation skills, start by joining a local Toastmasters group or signing up for a communications course. Once you complete this first action, you will be proud of your achievement and confident enough to move on to a slightly bigger project.

2. Be specific.
It is difficult to pursue goals that are too general or unfocused; zero in on what exactly you want to achieve, and be specific. For example, instead of saying, “I’d like to improve my sales for this quarter,” say, “I want to increase my sales by 10 percent by the end of this quarter.” Once you have defined your intention, you know what your measure of success will be, and you can start to take action.

3. Be realistic.
You should be ambitious, but be careful not to set your professional development aspirations so high that they become unrealistic. Think about what you can feasibly achieve with the time and resources you have, and be open to adjusting your plans if necessary. It is much better to scale back on your original vision and achieve your goal then to abandon your project altogether.

4. Keep yourself accountable.
You know yourself better than anyone else; what do you need to follow through with your plans? Find a system that works for you, whether that’s setting monthly deadlines for yourself or asking a colleague to check in with you on specific tasks. Make a performance development plan to keep you on track.

5. Stick with it.
Don’t allow yourself to give up on your goals for growth and success. Write yourself an encouraging letter to read during challenging times or meet with a network of friends or co-workers so you can support each other in your individual endeavors.

How do you stay focused in your professional development journey? What tips can you share with others?

Learn more about the EDSI Challenging the Status Quo for Continuous Improvement course.

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