Don’t waste your professional development

By Stefanie Krievins, coach and founder, The Heart Projects |

We do-gooders are great at doing good, which usually also means being constantly active. What we’re not so great at is renewing our spirit and taking breaks to avoid compassion fatigue — that unique form of tension and stress that comes from helping those in distress.

Professional development, in particular leadership development, can help you address the toll that this difficult — yet fulfilling — work takes on your well-being.

Many nonprofit staff are quick to attend trainings on the development of their technical skills: fundraising, management, budgeting, marketing and outcomes development. While this is certainly important, you’ll be able to apply those learnings more quickly if you also address your leadership skills:

  • How to prioritize
  • Goal setting
  • Project and time management
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Ability to challenge the status quo
  • Inspiring and communicating with others

As you enter a new budget year, plan now to strategically use your professional and personal development benefits offered by the organization.

In the short-term, it can seem difficult to dedicate time to your own development because there are so many pressing issues. If you apply the information directly after the training or coaching, you’ll probably find that you’re more efficient, focused and energized. In the long-term, learning these important skills will support you to have more of an impact for the organization.

Here are some ways you and your organization will benefit from leadership development:

  • Understanding your strengths and how your job provides you with joy. It might seem odd to seek training or coaching when you’re happy in your job, but it will only support you in becoming a better leader faster.
  • Learning new skills. One of my favorite quotes is, “Leaders are learners.” In our important work, leaders are needed at every level and we need people equipped to take on new challenges in an educated way. The secret to every great leader is that they are constantly learning new skills and new levels of self-awareness.
  • Understanding why you feel stressed. Stress can feel overwhelming and all encompassing. Taking the time to understand specific stressors helps you isolate the problem and then figure out how to solve it. Being able to get rid of stress is just the first step. The second step is to identify the positive emotion you want to replace it with.
  • Respite. Those in human and social services especially deal with some the worst of humanity: abuse of kids and seniors, teens left to fend for themselves on the streets, drug abuse, untreated mental illness, etc. This can, and does, traumatize employees and staff at all levels. You deserve the opportunity to truly disconnect and renew your energy — and have it funded by your employer. You are carrying out the organization’s mission, so its budget needs to cover the emotional health of employees. This can be done via coaching, therapy, EAP services, paid retreat time or spiritual direction, a form of one-on-one discernment with a trained professional.

Leadership development comes in many forms and goes beyond the typical training/conference/workshop. Here are some creative suggestions for you to leverage your allocated professional development benefits:

  • Paid wellness/spiritual retreats (just for you or for a larger team)
  • One-on-one or group coaching
  • Job swapping with an individual from another organization
  • Finding a mentor through a formal mentor program
  • Joining a mastermind (it’s like having your own personal board of directors)
  • Paid sabbatical of a month or more, usually available after at least five years of employment
  • Attending a stress management or meditation/mindfulness workshop

If you have especially challenging goals for the upcoming year, don’t be afraid to ask for additional leadership development. Your organization will increase the likelihood of meeting its goals if it supports your growth. You also owe it to your organization to implement what you learn by practicing your new skills, and providing a report to your manager on how the leadership development impacted you.

By focusing on your own needs and development, you’ll strengthen your organization with better outcomes, more effective outputs and stronger teamwork. Personally, you’ll benefit because you’ll be able to take on more challenges and be in a better position for a promotion. Make your growth a priority this year.

stefanie Stefanie Krievins is the founder and coach for The Heart Projects, which delivers free resources at She also offers personal leadership development programs and coaching for nonprofit staff, volunteers, social entrepreneurs and those who want to connect with work that matters. She has a master’s degree in nonprofit management from SPEA at Indiana University, completed credentialed coaching training from Erickson International, and has more than a decade of employment and volunteering in the charitable sector in Indiana and nationwide.

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