The Career Development Habit

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

-Aristotle

As each new year begins, a lot is written on the subject of habits. Habits associated with health and wellness. Habits associated with mental outlook and happiness. And habits associated with greater professional success. Habits really are at the core of excellence in any arena – including career development.

For too long, career development has been treated as an event – something that happens episodically, generally on an annual basis. It’s a formal line in the sand and opportunity to connect and contract around how to help others grow. It has tended to be highly regulated and dictated, with a focus on the paperwork and processes instead of the person on the other side of the desk.

Imagine if you exercised only once each year. Or meditated annually rather than daily. Positive habits could never be built. And because the same holds true for career development, many leaders are missing an opportunity to powerfully help people (and their organizations) grow.

Authentic, sustainable, engaging development isn’t a one-and-done yearly event. It’s a daily habit of effective leaders. And it’s as simple as engaging in ongoing, growth-promoting dialogue. Those who’ve mastered it know that the career development habit boils down to watching for cues to intervene with a question.

Too frequently, people believe that career development needs to be punctuated with meetings, moves, promotions, and other formal and seemingly consequential events. But the truth is that leaders who’ve built up the career development habit do nothing more than mine the most mundane of circumstances for an excuse to demonstrate interest, probe a bit further, encourage reflection and spark insights.

Meaningful career development comes down to cultivating the habit of engaging in ongoing career conversations with others. And the tool for building that habit is questions. When was the last time you asked your employees…
Simple questions offer profound insights and development opportunities… but only to leaders who have internalized the career development habit. Want to become one of these leaders? The first step is to arm yourself with questions and then practice asking them. Leaders are always surprised by just how quickly their career dialogue cadence grows once they have a solid repository of questions upon which to draw.

  • What’s most interesting about what you’re doing these days?
  • How must our work change to better respond to customer and/or marketplace needs?
  • What kinds of problems do you want to be solving?
  • What do you want to learn or experience?

As the new year begins and you resolve to build new habits, including career development is a powerful way to support your employees, your organization and yourself. Happy new year!


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