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The practical side of self-development is rarely viewed through the lens of business outcomes. It was, typically, angled as a nice-to-do, fuzzy-wuzzy activity that ranked just below the corporate Nerf Ball tournament. Occasionally, it was dusted off during the annual performance appraisal discussion as a checklist of unrelated tasks that lend further credence to it being taken as seriously as a Flava Flav critique of the Six Wives of Henry the VIII. During the years of corporate benevolence, millions of dollars were allocated to the pursuit of knowledge enhancement, skill acquisition and self-improvement as part of the employee benefit package. The corporation took responsibility for making the resources available and it was the employee’s option whether or not to seize the opportunity. As an unseen, intangible occurrence, self-development was a source of conversational awkwardness between managers and employees that, oftentimes, was relegated to the last topic discussed after you finished talking about the other ‘important’ stuff. The perceived softness of self-development is what triggered the hardened resistance from so many business sectors. When the skills, bought and paid for by the organization, rarely resulted in any demonstrable change in behavior or outcome, what followed was the collective perception that it was a waste of time and it ‘didn’t take.’

One of the, arguments advanced by the ‘experientialists’ is that experience is the best teacher and that the best development occurs when you, actually, grab a tiger by the tail as opposed to chasing it through a video game. The flip side of the argument is found in the writings of the ‘reflectionalists’ who believe that reading, discussion and critical thinking is the path to true self-development. Far from thinking about self-development is the overworked, overstressed, 9:00 am to midnight employee, whose primary concerns are the hallucinations that come from lack of sleep. Somewhere in the middle of the debate, the pendulum swings between self-seeking advancement and reactive business necessity. Is it better to immerse oneself into a self-designed, inner-driven broadening of skills and knowledge? Or, is it better to wait until the organizations identifies what you need to, quickly, learn and direct you toward that activity?

At a time when external venues stretch the once, unshakeable, foundations of business, all roads lead inward. The practical side of business demands a concrete, connected path to survival and growth. The monetary reward that comes from putting in long hours will stagnate when left unbalanced by personal attention to self-development. There is, more than, a compelling notion that has business leaders rethinking how they approach the design and delivery of business outcomes. When practical necessity dictates a different mindset from business leaders, it rightfully, follows that employees are expected to make the same shift. The only difference is that the benevolence of the organization will not serve as the platform for the shift in mindset. The demonstrated willingness of the employee to broaden their knowledge base and master new skills will send a clear message that they are thinking beyond the long hours and focusing on the long run.

Self-development was never a waste of time, as it is sometimes portrayed, but was maligned by hundreds of wasted activities that never connected with the business cycle. The real path to self-development is in identifying those activities that connect both knowledge and skill to some kind of business problem. Hypothetical’s make for great legal, philosophical and psychological debates, but rarely lead to practical business solutions. Active engagement in individual self-development is a message to the organization that you are paying attention. Keep in mind, from the organization’s point of view, insisting that you learn something new is the equivalent of being told to wear a belt with your pants so your underwear doesn’t show. You’re supposed to already know it.

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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