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Personal Development Strategies for Leaders

Personal Development Strategies for Leaders

How lab managers can determine, “what’s next?”

by Patty Eschliman, MHA, MLS(ASCP)DLM
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As a laboratory manager, you would not have achieved this level of leadership without the benefit of intrinsic motivation—that burning internal drive to strive for more, to contribute more, to implement positive change. But if that is the fire within, what is the fuel that feeds the fire? It is no different than the development strategies leaders work so hard to provide for their staff, and their own leadership development is at the core. To continue striving, contributing, and creating change, leaders must have opportunities to increase their knowledge, develop new skill sets, and build their own engagement. But, like most things, 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way everyone approached development strategies for both their staff and themselves.

The famous quote by Zig Ziglar says: “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them, is to not train them and keep them.” Watching good employees struggle and disengage causes many managers to become hyper-focused on taking care of their staff’s needs and neglect their own goals and aspirations. While this is sometimes a necessary and admirable trait of a great leader, it comes at a cost. Effective leaders learn to replace the “or” with “and.”  There are some strategies to help leaders focus on their team and keep themselves developing and moving forward, too.  

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Without conference or travel opportunities, lab leaders need to get creative with their personal development strategies. During the height of the pandemic, some organizations had the ability to purchase e-learning suites or convert their team development modules into a digital format. However, this took time and money. As organizations struggled financially to address the reduction in services and manufacturing, which in some cases required furloughing employees, every dollar counted and education was often sacrificed for these pressing business needs. 

If there are no conferences to attend, how do we bring the conferences to us? Fortunately, many professional organizations stepped up and created virtual conferences. These were organized by committed volunteers on a variety of topics for “just in time” learning, many of them focused on leadership development. Industry vendors also offered their support by providing free online technical education and passes to virtual seminars, some of them with equipment and instrument displays, enabling leaders to continue to stay updated with technical advancements. Other managers tapped into their internal fire and created their own development opportunities. Podcasts, YouTube education, blogs, and reading material increased significantly. However, oftentimes self-learning is just not as engaging as active learning with others. So, how can lab leaders stay actively engaged?

The link between personal and professional growth

On both a professional and personal level, many managers have discovered deep satisfaction by volunteering. Actor Will Smith said, “If you’re not making someone else’s life better, then you’re wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better.” There are countless opportunities to increase life satisfaction by volunteering in local civic organizations, professional organizations, or the community where you live. In an age of limited resources, all organizations would love help, no matter how small. Those that are intrinsically-driven describe receiving a benefit from volunteering, sometimes 10-fold above their contributions. It is an opportunity to broaden one’s skill set, stretch their comfort zone in a safe place, and work outside of the all-too-familiar workplace—all of which can keep the internal fires burning.

Volunteering for professional organizations can lead to significant professional growth. This is most impactful for newer managers who are interested in finding a mentor or wish to learn and practice leadership skills to apply in their professional roles with greater confidence and success. Just by attending (now virtual) meetings, you will be introduced to like-minded individuals who are often facing the same management struggles you are, or have been through similar situations and can provide guidance. Often, serving in one organization will create opportunities in other organizations. This will increase your professional footprint and create even more opportunity. You will develop life-long relationships with some of the most talented professionals in the industry both inside and outside your community. These experts become friends with a wealth of knowledge that you can tap at any time for advice and networking. After all, it has been said that it is not always what you know, but who you know, that will help you take that next big step in your career.   

Continuing education

Another way to stay intrinsically engaged in your career is by increasing your formal education.  Maybe it is time to go back for that bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD that you intended to complete years ago. With the push to put education online, there is now tremendous choice in programs, and you are not confined to your local college or university. Many of these programs are geared to the adult learner and have reasonable payment plans. Reach out to other leaders in your profession to discover what advanced degrees served them best in their professional development.  

Perhaps within your profession, there are additional certifications that you can earn that will set you apart from your colleagues, which will increase your success. One such example is in the medical laboratory management field, the Diplomate in Laboratory Management certification. Considered the most prestigious and challenging of all the American Society for Clinical Pathology certifications, there have been only around 1,100 Diplomates in the United States since its inception in 1989. These kinds of certifications are available in all industries.  

Additional certificates that will enhance your management role exist in the areas of human resource certificates or professional coaching. Many of these certifications can be individualized to fit a specific area of management that is of interest. For example, Lab Manager will launch the Lab Manager Academy later this year, offering lab professionals the opportunity to become certified in laboratory management or take courses "à la carte" in topics like positive communication, performance reviews, making difficult decisions, among many others. You never know what the future holds, but the more knowledge and diverse interests you have outside of your core job, the more likely it is to find new opportunities that can take you down a path of success you never previously imagined. 

Paulo Coelho, author of several novels including The Alchemist, said, “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.” That is why leadership development is so important. While you might have to go outside of your organization to find it, there is so much opportunity for development. If you are asking yourself, “what’s next?” start talking to the people you see as successful; figure out what they do that keeps their fire burning. Dip your toe into some volunteer activities. Surround yourself with positive people who also like to serve and grow. Take a class or two. Ask if you can have 15 minutes with the executive leadership of your organization and find out what they have done to create joy and success in their life. You never know—your next fueling station and best self may be one phone call away. It just takes a moment of need or courage to place the call.