The 4 Pillars of Professional Growth

Do you feel that you do a fantastic job at work but do not achieve the growth you expect? Here is the story of David who felt so.

“I am the most capable technical person on the team. Not only is the quality of my work superior, but I also get it done the fastest. Why don’t I get promoted?” complained David throwing his hands up in the air.

Lack of professional growth

He was furious with the management promoting different people again and again.

So why does David fail to grow despite being the expert at the job? In this article, I will cover the 4 pillars of professional growth and how David specializes only in one of them. He fails to focus on the other 3 key pillars.

Though David works as an employee, the reasons for his lack of growth apply to self-employed individuals too.

What is professional growth?

Professional growth refers to developing and improving the necessary skills to help you advance in your career. Whether you are an employee or self employed, you have a career goal to attain. By keeping yourself updated, you stand a higher chance of meeting your goal.

The 4 pillars of professional growth

Growing in a professional environment requires a person to exhibit skills in 4 important areas. Whether managers put these as a part of your goals or not, they still contribute to the decisions about promotions. If you’re self-employed, these aspects contribute to the success of your business.

The 4 pillars of professional growth are:

  • Technical Expertise
  • Communication
  • Relationship and rapport
  • Problem Solving Initiative
4 pillars of professional growth

Pillar 1: Technicality

This forms the most obvious and central part of your job.

If you are working in an IT company, your technical expertise might be programming, server administration, DevOps, quality assurance and so on.

The word “technical” can give the wrong impression that the pillar is about hardware or software knowledge. Technical expertise refers to your core skill.

  • For a sales executive, it is the ability to influence a sale
  • For a baker, it refers to the quality of cakes baked
  • For an accountant, it indicates the knowledge of balance sheets
Pillar 1 technicality

Technical expertise consists of 3 main parts:

  • Knowledge – Do you have the know-how to get the job done?
  • Quality – How well can you do the job
  • Speed – How much time you require

David specialized in technicality. With a shadow of a doubt, he was the best in the team in the core area. He had amazing knowledge, delivered high-quality work at super-fast speeds.

Most people make the same false assumption as David did. They assume technicality to be the only sphere of professional life.

Unfortunately, technical expertise does not alone serve as the propellor of growth. It only forms one part of the skills required to excel in your career.

Working all the time

If you’re an entrepreneur, you might assume this does not apply to you. But countless entrepreneurs have built a fabulous technical product only to fail to grow their business.

No doubt, without technical expertise, you cannot succeed either. But if you expect growth only based on your technical skills, you will end up disappointed.

This confusion stems due to early promotions. When you are starting a career as a fresher, technicality alone can bag you the first couple of advancements. Beyond that, you will have to strengthen your other pillars too.

Imagine your career to be a gigantic building. You can build a corner with one pillar, but can you finish the entire structure without other pillars? You cannot.

Your multiple key areas need to gel up together and facilitate your growth.

Pillar 2: Communication

Pillar 2 communication

The second key pillar of your growth is communication.

When the word communication shows up, people visualize sophisticated vocabulary or amazing public speaking skills.

Communication applies to much simpler aspects of daily life. You do not need a ton of complicated words or step on a stage to use your communication skills. You use them every day whether you realize it or not.

We will break communication down into 3 parts:

a. Putting thoughts to words:

You need to voice out your opinion such that people understand. Many people have the habit of using flowery language and complicated words to appear smart and cool. The problem compounds when it comes to writing.

Speak well

For example, read the following sentence:

“High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for the facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.” Have you encountered such emails sent by executives and researchers quite often? I am sure you have.

Instead, if you said, “Children need good schools to learn well,” the message appears so much clearer.

Let me give you another example. “I want to improve the search engine optimization of my blog and increase its traffic. ”

Unless you know the technical details of a website, you will wonder what am I saying. People tend to use a lot of jargon which not everyone can understand.

What if I said, “I want to increase the readers of my blog by making my website appear higher on Google”?

Isn’t that clear and simple?

Do not communicate to impress. Communicate to help people understand. When you speak or write, consider how the receiver will perceive your message.

Do not add complicated words and abbreviations to make people wonder and ask you what that meant. People will not consider you smart if you do that. Rather, you will end up annoying them.

b. Speaking in a flow

When you speak without missing the flow, you make a great impression. Flow does not mean the ability to speak fast.

When you speak without any fillers, repetitions and erroneous words, you make the message crystal clear for the listener. You can even use a pause if you are struggling.

You will need practice and effort to improve your speaking skills. Unfortunately, David was least interested in honing his communication. Whenever he opened his mouth or sent an email, most people could not relate to what he was talking about.

c. The right tone of voice

Speak in a flow

You can use simple words in the right flow and still make a mistake.

Imagine, your friend asked you a question and you provided an answer. The friend did not catch what you said, so she asks you, “What was that?”

Take another scenario. You make a mistake and your furious boss barges in and screams, “What was that?”

You notice a major difference even though the usage of the words was the same. Why so? Because the way the words are uttered can change the meaning altogether.

Using the right tone as per the situation can determine how the conversation and the relationship flows.

Pillar 3: Relationships & Rapport

The third key pillar of your professional growth is relationships.

Pillar 3 relationships

Co-workers tried to keep a distance from David whenever possible. This was because David would hardly mingle with anyone.

No matter how smart you are, you will need assistance from other people to accomplish larger projects. If you stick to your desk all the time, people will not show a keen interest to help you.

Early in your career, you can grow without talking to a single soul. Your work alone can deliver the results required to propel you higher.

Once you reach a certain level of success, you can no longer complete all the work alone. You cannot achieve bigger results unless you get along with people.

No one likes to work with a jerk. Failing to cultivate relationships is a gigantic roadblock to your professional growth.

Even if you are an entrepreneur, your employees will not give their 100% unless you cultivate good relationships with your people.

Rapport

When you develop good relationships and respect, people welcome your thoughts and suggestions. If you act bitter and hurtful, people will turn their back towards you when you need help.

People working in sales understand how human beings make decisions based on emotions more than rational thought.

The same applies outside work too. Take the case of your partner. The more considerate you are towards your partner, the more welcoming she will be. The more you blame her, the more she will hit back at you.

The better the relationships you build with the people, the faster you will grow and succeed.

Pillar 4: Problem Solving Initiative:

The fourth pillar of professional growth is your initiative to solve problems around you.

Pillar 4 Problem solving initiative

David did an amazing job at completing the tasks assigned to him. Apart from them, he would not proactively engage in innovation himself.

Being technically superior only provides a small edge.

Let us take for example, you call a plumber because your shower had stopped working.

  • Case 1: Plumber A fixes the job in 15 minutes and leaves.
  • Case 2: Plumber B takes an hour. He not only fixes your shower but also repairs the leaking flush which you never even mentioned.

Which plumber would you give a bigger tip to? Without a doubt, Plumber B.

Idea to solve a problem

Even though he took longer, you love the person who did something useful without being asked to.

The same applies to work. You do not have to work the fastest or deliver the best possible result to grow.

No matter where you are and what you do, the world appreciates those who solve problems out of their own initiative. Look around you and you will spot enough problems. Pick one and think of ways to solve it. Many of those problems are easier to solve than you think.

Solving problems is one of the fastest ways to shoot up your professional growth.

What can you do to use the 4 pillars to grow faster?

Here are some tips to apply the concept of 4 pillars to accelerate your growth.

1. Don’t focus on one pillar alone

Most people do not achieve professional growth because they spend most or all their time building their technical expertise. As per the law of diminishing returns, the effort taken to improve a skill grows higher as you scale up.

As the figure above shows, the more you build expertise, the more effort you need to scale that skill further.

Instead, you will grow faster by spending time on the other pillars of communication, relationships, and problem-solving.

The more you focus on one pillar, the more you weaken the others 3.

A good way to scale your professional growth is to allocate some time regularly to work on all 4 areas. Even if you spend a big chunk of your time on technicality and a small portion on the other 3 areas, you will reap massive benefits over the years.

2. Step out of your comfort zone

Couch potato

Most people have a passion to improve their core area. But when it comes to the other 3 areas, things take a backseat.

Improving all four pillars isn’t enjoyable. You will have to do things you do not like to accustom yourself and get better. If you have to step up your skills outside your technical area, you will have to step out of your comfort zone.

Your brain will fight against any ideas which make you uncomfortable. But you have to resist what your brain is saying and keep moving ahead.

3. Spend time learning

Your technicality will improve over time due to repeated practice without any extra effort. Since you work every day, you will figure out what is the best way to do things in your area of expertise.

However, when it comes to your other pillars, you will lack the required knowledge. Therefore, you must explore and find ways to improve.

  • To improve communication, sign up for a toastmasters club
  • To build a better rapport, read some books on persuasion and empathy
  • To improve problem-solving skills, find out how the innovators came up with solutions to problems

You will not strengthen all 4 pillars with effort alone. You will have to seek knowledge in the right places, understand how it works, apply it to real life and learn from your own experience.

Learning is imperative for your professional growth.

4. Rate yourself on each aspect and revisit often

Rate yourself

Take a piece of paper and rate yourself on the 4 pillars. You can use a rating system of Poor, Average, Good, Excellent. Be honest about where you believe you stand.

Once you have your ratings, start with the pillar you believe you are worst at. Take one pillar at a time and make an effort to improve your self-rating.

A month later, revisit the pillars and rate yourself again. Though your rating does not have to improve month on month, you must keep reminding yourself about where you stand.

You can pick up a different pillar each month if you like and allow time for each pillar to grow stronger.

Pick any approach you believe will work for you. As far as you are improving yourself in all areas, any approach works just fine. There are no hard and fast rules for personal development.

Conclusion

To achieve personal and professional growth you must improve on various fronts. Focus only on one and you will stagnate.

Even after you start working on all 4 pillars, you will not achieve a promotion right away. Since most people will have 3 of their 4 pillars weak, you might need time to see results and achieve professional growth.

Only after the whole structure is completed can people admire its beauty. Likewise, you will need to strengthen all your pillars to achieve results. Your return on investment might take time, but it will surely arrive.

“Become a millionaire not for the million dollars, but for what it will make of you to achieve it.”

Jim Rohn
career development personal growth



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