To paraphrase John Lennon, “Another COVID year over, a new one just begun”. How are you feeling about 2022? You may have seen memes half-jokingly reflecting a cautious approach (“Before I agree to 2022, I want to read the terms and conditions”) to our new year. That’s understandable, given the way the ‘20s began … and even more so when we consider how omicron brought a jarring, jolting close to 2021.
More than a few people reading this may have found themselves in the position of putting a screeching halt to carefully developed plans, after a two-year absence, for a return to in person office or personal holiday celebrations. You or your colleagues may be among those whose business trips or family holiday plans were disrupted by airlines’ need to cancel flights. We have reports that, in the US alone, more than 10,000 flights were canceled in the last eight days of 2021.
Given the state of our world, you may also have postponed or canceled business and personal plans for early 2022. It's understandable, then, if you find yourself treading lightly as we embark upon this year. It could be highly tempting, after all the upheaval, change, and accommodating you’ve managed over the last 22 months or so, to lay low rather than embarking on any new career undertakings.
The thing is, though, we can’t put the world on pause, no matter how much we could use a well-deserved breather. You could be reworking travel and meeting plans yet again this month, often making the task appear effortless. You may well be coordinating and attending remote and/or hybrid meetings for some time to come. In this career, there will continue to be matters beyond our control. That’s why it’s all the more meaningful to be intentional in taking control over what we can when it comes to our careers – and that extends to our professional development.
If nothing else, these times have demonstrated the value of having people who bring strong “soft skills” to their role. Quantifiable skills and expertise with various software programs were relevant in helping you attain your role. It’s the soft skills, though, that can make or break your success once you’re through the door.
I believe the so-called soft skills are anything but soft. We know that readily quantifiable skills such as keyboarding accuracy and speed, and software such as Excel, PowerPoint, and so on impact career success. So, too, do less quantifiable soft skills. Our ability and readiness to effectively communicate and contribute as team members impact colleagues and other stakeholders. The extent to which assistants leverage influence and flex emotional intelligence (EI, or EQ) skills also impacts success in the career.
If you think about some of the conflicts you’ve witnessed over the course of your career, it’s often an absence of soft skills that led to such challenges. A Global Talent Trends report from LinkedIn shows that 89% of the 5,000 HR professionals and hiring managers surveyed believe that their organizations’ “bad hires” typically had poor soft skills. It’s unsurprising, then, even with artificial intelligence (AI) and automation on the rise, that 80% of the same group said strong soft skills are becoming increasingly important to company success. These soft skills can be differentiators.
In its latest Global Talent Trends report, Mercer highlighted the concept of winning with empathy. In preparing its report, Mercer identified a few skills and asked executives which of those skills are critical for future resilience. Adaptability/growth mindset (openness to change) came out on top, followed closely by collaboration skills. Self-management/prioritization skills ranked third. We’re back to emotional intelligence, accompanied by communication skills.
When it comes to communications and your career, you may choose to focus on anything from assertiveness to negotiating skills, developing influence and promoting yourself, or establishing or honing your personal brand.
We can and should continue to pay attention to skills that are technical in nature. It makes sense to identify and work on any gaps between our current skill levels and expectations. It’s also wise to continue to develop and utilize expertise with software that’s in demand and in which you already shine.
If I was to ask everyone reading this to identify your favorite aspect of the career, I’d be surprised if many mentioned minutes. I present training sessions on minutes twice every six weeks or so, and even the best assistants can be daunted or frustrated by this aspect of the role. In other instances, some people have been preparing minutes for so long that it’s easy to assume standards that were perfectly appropriate a few years ago reflect today’s standards and expectations. As with other aspects of the career, we shouldn’t be complacent that the skills that landed us a role should be left unpolished over time.
Employers across sectors are paying attention to organizational resilience. We as individuals would be wise to pay attention to both personal and career resilience, and how to nurture both. It can be advantageous for both you and your employer for you to invest energy in learning what you can to help understand both the challenges and opportunities your organization and its leaders are facing. ESG, which represents environmental, social, and governance, is a prime example of an issue that can represent both a risk and an opportunity for employers.
Your current role may or may not involve matters such as risk management or strategic planning, yet these – along with ESG, project management, cybersecurity, and even the governance structure of your organization – can add to the level of strategic and business acumen you bring to the role. Paying attention to your organization’s strategic planning process may not be something you’d traditionally think of as professional development. However, familiarizing yourself with your strategic plan can be informative – and it may prove useful in conversations where you can demonstrate your awareness and engagement.
Where do you turn for professional development? Whatever combination of websites such as this and my own Exceptional EA, along with webinars, vlogs, books, podcasts, your organization’s strategic plan, credit courses, conferences, or other resources you may choose, the key is the extent to which you’re open to continuous learning. Lifelong learning serves us well, both personally and in our careers.
Here's a list of areas to consider for your professional development and growth in 2022. Some of these topics cross over into one another. Which ones appeal to you, and will enable you to positively impact your organization while also rejuvenating and recharging you as we make our way through what’s sure to be another interesting year?