The Art and Science of Professional Development

Guest post from Bill Bartlett:

What is your position on
professional development? If you are among the top 20% of all executives, you
believe it is as necessary as the air you breathe whereas the remaining 80%
consider it to be a waste of time or give lip service to it. I have been
coaching and training business executives for over 20 years and I find the high
performers demonstrate a common need to continuously raise the learning bar to
stay ahead of the competition. The top 20 percenters gain developmental insight
from numerous sources, however, I find there are three primary categories of
executive development: outside experience, training, and coaching. Most high-performing
leaders are committed to using a combination of all three to accomplish their
goal to be the best.

I have always heard that
experience is the best teacher and this may be true if it is broad enough to
encompass new information. Unfortunately, when executives derive his expertise
strictly from the internal occurrences of their company, they often develop
tunnel vision which hampers growth. The true development of their company’s
potential is stunted due to the absence of externally gleaned knowledge that
might challenge outdated thinking. The richest types of experience come from executives
being “out in the world” to witness different approaches and concepts which may
be applicable to their business. Far too many executives lead lives of “quiet
desperation”, returning to their office every Monday, to prescribe identical
solutions to what they perceive to be identical problems they had left behind
the previous Friday. Exciting new ideas are presented and discussed at
association meetings, executive mastermind groups, as well as outside industry
consulting groups. If you are an executive who strictly relies on internal
experiences, you owe it to yourself to explore resources that could lead to you
questioning the same old thought patterns that worked at one time, but are
clearly no longer effective.

Training is a critical driver
of executive growth and development. One of the main focuses for my business is
sales and leadership training in order to stay abreast of the needs of today’s
fast-paced learning curve. My role as corporate trainer is to teach every leader
new skills in a manner that allows them to confidently adopt new strategies and
tactics for growth in their position. Unfortunately, approximately 80% of
executives do not believe in the power of continuous learning and either suffer
significant plateaus in their career and/or inertia in their business. An
effective training methodology is typically designed to impart skills,
knowledge, and application in a manner that enhances their performance as
leaders and managers. I believe every executive initially brings an impressive
skill set to their position, but, over time, its effectiveness is diminished as
they face greater challenges. Training sharpens the saw and provides new skills
to add to their toolbox. Simply developing them, however, is not enough. I have
to ensure executives understand their context to assure their commitment to
utilizing them is solidified. This provides a framework for the skills execution
and leads to the executive exhibiting heightened situational awareness. Lastly,
training provides a path for continuous application, the key to sustainable
success, and eliminates the “flavor of the month” approach to growth.

The final area for executives
to consider when exploring professional development is coaching. Executives are
now learning what professional athletes have always known: a great coach is an
invaluable resource when pursuing a goal. Athletic coaches usually don’t
possess the same physical attributes as their athletes, however, they have the
ability to reach into the minds and souls of the athletes to help them raise
their performance level to heights they may have only dreamed of attaining. In
the world of professional development, coaching helps transfer experience and
training into the wisdom necessary for the executive to transcend to a much
more impactful level of performance. I am an executive coach for many
executives ranging from the Fortune 1000 to small business and I find that each
has a performance code that when accessed, helps them significantly raise their
level of success.

Executive stagnation is a
disease that no leader can afford to contract as it restricts the growth of
both the executive and the company being led. Experience, training, and
coaching should challenge them to think differently and break antiquated
patterns of behavior that have never been questioned. I challenge all of my
executive coaching clients with the following questions:


1. What
is ONE new idea you have brought to your management team that you wanted them
to vet?

2. What
is ONE traditional operating principle you have relied on for growth? Is it
still valid?

3. What
is ONE recent example of your management team’s willingness to critically
challenge your thinking?

4. Do
you regularly take an objective 360-degree analysis of your company to
determine areas of stagnation?

5. What
artificial limitations have you placed on your behavior?

6. How
do you test your business assumptions to validate or change them?

7. Have
you created a continuous learning culture?

Far too many executives see
their role as a mass of tactics designed to drive the business forward. In
reality, the executive function of any company must be firmly rooted in
strategic thinking, not tactical action. How differently would executives lead their
company if they truly believed they were paid to think, not do? Professional
executive development demands a commitment to growth and the discipline to act.
Ask yourself, “What’s holding me back” and if the answer is nothing, NOW is the
time to act.

is author of THE SALES COACH’S PLAYBOOK:  Breaking The

Performance Code (Sandler
Training / 2016).  Bartlett is an
experienced Sandler trainer who plays an important role in Sandler’s worldwide
organization and is recognized as a business development expert specializing in
executive sales training and sales productivity training.  He currently heads a Sandler training center
in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, IL.

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