Mega-ConnEX is an annual speed networking event organized by the Health Canada Young Professionals Network which connects young professionals and public sector senior executives. This event, loosely modelled on the ‘speed dating’ process, allows participants to network with senior executives in rapid succession. The senior executives, including Deputy Ministers, provide advice on diverse topics such as professional advancement, career tips and personal growth. Mega-ConnEX 2014 was held in Ottawa and attracted over 250 young professionals and over 50 senior executives.
Mega-ConnEX provides a unique opportunity for young professionals to get advice and guidance on their careers from the most successful senior leaders in the public service. These insights are valuable; executives have experience overcoming professional challenges and can identify the skills which are most needed in the public service today.
As a participant in the past several Mega-ConnEX events, I was struck by executives’ candid responses. Many executives, especially in light of recent budget cuts, emphasized the importance of flexibility, adaptability and continually learning and growing. Executives also stressed the importance of leadership, whether that is leadership in the traditional sense or “leading from behind”, the notion that even without the formal title or power, you provide inspiration, direction and vision to those around you.
I am extremely supportive of networking events, especially Mega-ConnEX given that it raises funds for the Government of Canada Charitable Campaign (raising over $5,500 in 2014 alone). However, it is important to note that these senior leaders are not the only arbiters of knowledge. You can find mentors and leaders at all levels, formally or informally, who are experts in any subject. You may also find these mentors among your peers, in your immediate work unit, or outside the public service. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of a formal mentoring relationship, than consider informal mentoring. You might embark on job shadowing, ask one-off questions to people you trust or find a mentor who is willing to engage in a coaching relationship.
An often overlooked source of professional development is observing the actions, traits and behaviours of an individual you admire professionally or who has a demonstrated track record of professional success. There is much to be learned from the mundane day to day activities of leaders as these skills are often overlooked during formal or informal mentoring and networking. For example, one specific senior leader was excellent at chairing a meeting to the point that he had complete control of the room. He ran the meeting efficiently and effectively, keeping the meeting running on time and making sure everyone stuck to the agenda. Observing the senior leader chair the meeting offered insights into behaviours that would normally not be discussed during mentoring.
The strongest leaders I’ve worked under in my own career, always sought more minds to contribute to their projects and ideas. Working from isolation makes your work susceptible to your own biases, assumptions, and opinions formed through your knowledge, experience and culture. While it might be easier to work in isolation, your final deliverable will suffer for it. Seeking opinions from those less familiar with your work or those outside your organization (other Departments or outside the Public Service) will force you to challenge your own assumptions and help you grow professionally and personally.
Another piece of advice to help your career advancement is to keep an up to date diary of your accomplishments and deliverables. It is easy to forget all the great things we are accomplishing in our jobs, especially when we are busy and burdened with our work and personal obligations. By keeping track of what we do, we make it much easier to update our resume, keep track of our progress in light of our professional goals and can identify areas of improvement.
When it comes to your own career and professional development, you only get as much as you put in. Whether you decide to take on informal mentoring, formal mentoring or anything in between, the amount of effort you put into it is directly related to how useful it ends up being. Invest in your personal relationships, build trust with your colleagues and superiors, and be open about your career ambitions, challenges and successes. You will find this will focus your energies and deliver better results and provide you inspiration to reach new heights.