“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln
When is the last time you sharpened your axe?
What’s that? You’re not a lumberjack, you’re an executive? So was Lincoln. As one of the most respected and revered leaders in history, he knew that preparation was essential for facing challenges.
But as months and years fly by, and we show up for work and do what we can every day, professional development often falls by the wayside. We have more responsibilities and less time than we did in those halcyon days just out of college, when developing new skills was top of mind.
It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day issues, hacking at the tree in front of you with a dull, ineffective blade.
Have you neglected to sharpen your axe? Are you allowing your growth to stagnate? Here are five reasons to re-prioritize professional development, endorsed by Uncle Abe.
1. Increase Your Value
“I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” — Abraham Lincoln
Are you wiser today than you were yesterday?
When is the last time you picked up a new skill, refreshed your knowledge of industry trends, or considered a new perspective on some aspect of your business?
Don’t let the level of success you’ve already achieved (or your busy schedule0 deceive you into thinking you can’t, or don’t need to, increase your value.
“In plain speak,” says Forbes Business Development Council member Brandon Ficara, “if you can’t see that you need improved skills in order to succeed, you won’t succeed.” Even if you’re at the top of your field, you can always learn more. No one knows it all. By committing to consistent learning, you constantly reset the bar for “best,” and become a better version of yourself, a little wiser today than yesterday.
2. Keep Up
“Whatever you are, be a good one.” — Abraham Lincoln
The world is changing, at an ever-more-dizzying pace. Successful execs need to stay abreast of technological changes, economic and cultural shifts, and resulting business trends. You’ve got to to consider the future as well as the present, taking stock of and integrating change for the benefit of your company.
“The winners in the 21st century economy,” says James Murphy of Forbes Communications Council, “will be companies and individuals that can quickly and confidently assimilate this type of upheaval and use it as a competitive advantage.”
No matter your industry or specialty, innovation is expected. As technology evolves, jobs evolve, and successful executives evolve right along with them.
3. Refresh Your Mind
“Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.” — Abraham Lincoln
If you’ve ever spent hours (or days, or weeks) banging your head against the same problem, you’ve experienced mental stagnation. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, trying the same solutions again and again, banging away at a tree with a dull axe. When this happens, finding a way to rejuvenate your thinking processes and introduce new ideas is the best way to dig yourself out.
Virginia Franco of Forbes Coaches Council says, “Many people (myself included) walk away from professional development invigorated with new business plans, new pricing strategies, and new ways of maximizing business.”
Can you remember the last time you read a groundbreaking book, attended a workshop, or listened to a podcast and walked away with an actionable concept that made a difference for your company or career?
Seek regions hitherto unexplored, and find your next genius idea.
4. Create a Culture of Achievement
“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.” — Abraham Lincoln
As a top executive, other staff in your company look to you as an example. Devoting time to professional development is a great way to start creating a culture of growth for your employees. Jacob Hanson of Forbes Agency Council recommends that as a leader, you “build a dynamic team you trust, invest in them, and invest in yourself.”
Every skill your employees develop, every inspired spark of insight they bring to the table, is an asset for your business. But if your head is buried in the day-to-day, theirs will be, too. Set a strong example. Committing yourself to professional development and bringing back great, successful ideas, is proof for your team that they can do it, too.
5. Make Connections
“We can succeed only by concert. It is not, ‘Can any of us imagine better,’ but, ‘Can we all do better?’” — Abraham Lincoln
Professional development is not limited to learning in isolation. Forming connections with others is also an essential component to building a solid career and being the best version of yourself.
Networking has always been recognized as an essential part of doing business. Who you know, and what you can do for each other, is important. But as people become increasingly disillusioned with the cocktail chatter and trading business cards, the emphasis is shifting to building meaningful relationships. Connection is crucial.
So start making connections. Reach out to individuals who inspire you. Join and become active in professional peer groups like Forbes Councils.
Michael Loban, Forbes Communications Council, says, “Most executives don’t have easy access to a carefully vetted group of success-oriented individuals who are all looking to learn and grow from each other. Participating in the right peer environments can be the difference between slow incremental growth and the kind of exponential growth that changes your entire outlook on what’s truly possible in your life and career.”
Find others. Do better together.
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” — Abraham Lincoln
Now that you’re ready to get out there and revitalize your mind, career, and company, how do you get started?
Forbes Councils members offer 15 suggestions for sharpening your skills in this article, another 11 tips to fit into your busy schedule here, and 14 ideas unique to 2019 in this article. From books, articles, and podcasts to live training sessions and meetups, there is something for everyone, no matter how much (or how little) time you have. Bonus: if you’re a Forbes Councils member, there are several professional development options built in to your membership, including executive coaching and connecting via members-only forums. If you’re not yet a member, see if you qualify here.
Regardless of the methods you choose, remember that it’s up to you to prioritize growth. Forbes Los Angeles Business Council member Mark Schellinger warns, “You’re either growing, or you’re dying.’”
Spend time sharpening your axe, and resolve to succeed. Lincoln would be proud.