Let's be blunt here. When your employer encourages you to formulate a personal development plan, they're not doing so out of some new-found concern for your welfare. They want to develop people in ways that benefit the business, so there ends up being little that is "personal" about them, and even less that is about "personal vision".
I mean, have you ever heard of anyone admitting to wanting to set up a competitor business or wanting to work less hard? No, didn't think so. So rather than towing the company line, let's think about crafting a personal vision of what you really want to achieve in your life and your career.
Imagine that you are dead
You can't fail to have heard of emotional intelligence (EQ) and the body of research saying that EQ determines career success more strongly than traditional IQ.
But EQ does not just encompass awareness of your own emotions and interpersonal skills; it also includes the willingness to create a vision and achieve it. Because while most people wander through their lives without a plan, emotionally intelligent individuals map out their lives and ultimately achieve much more
A personal vision is simply a picture of what success looks like, an idea of what you may want to achieve with your life. And one of the best ways to identify your personal vision in life is to imagine that you are dead. Hopefully not for a good 30, 40 or 70 years into the future, but picture a gathering of friends and family, colleagues and acquaintances mourning you. What would you want your best friend to say about you?
Don't worry about what you think they will probably say about you. Consider how you would like to be remembered in a eulogy. It's a cliché that no one ever said on their deathbed that they wished they had worked harder. So use this opportunity to think about how you would like to be remembered after you are gone.
This may seem like a stupid and irrelevant management exercise. But just trust that emotionally intelligent (and successful) people are open-minded to new techniques and invest constantly in their personal development. Once you have drafted your eulogy, put it aside. Don't look at it for a few days or so. And then come back to it with fresh eyes and see what you could add to it.
Hone your vision
Successful people don't believe in luck – they create their own success by having a vision and setting out to achieve it. So now turn your eulogy about how you would like to be remembered into a vision that captures what you will do to be remembered in that way.
A vision need neither be worthy in the eyes of other people nor huge and unwieldy. Some people do want to cure cancer or end poverty, hunger and strife. But your own vision needs only be important to you. Perhaps your vision is to build a multi-million pound business or become CFO of a large business or CEO or a smaller one. Or maybe to travel the world, be a better parent, or write that book you have been talking about.
Try to capture in a couple of statements what your long-term goals are. What do you hope to achieve in both your working and personal life? Try to add some indication of when you want to achieve your goals too – to avoid putting off till tomorrow what needs attention today.
But, more importantly, ensure that your goals are stretching while at the same time being achievable. Given that there are only 24 hours in the day, can you realistically do it all?
Emotionally intelligent individuals have a personal vision and use it to guide their decisions and behaviours at work. They may keep it very secret, but make no mistake that they have clear long-term goals.
Rather than worrying about losing a particular client or the failure of a project or piece of work, they keep their eye on the big picture of their personal vision. When they pursue promotions or change jobs, they do it because it helps to inch them nearer toward their long-term vision, not because they crave responsibility or more money in the short-term.
Emotionally intelligent people don't worry about being liked by everyone; they focus on building and maintaining relationships with key individuals who might eventually help them to achieve their vision.
So what is your vision?
Invest in your career by thinking about it. Then write it down. Please, write it down. It's important.
Here's an interesting snippet of research for you. Back in the 1950s, researchers asked a group of Harvard University graduates about their goals. As you might expect, almost all of them had goals. But only three per cent of them actually wrote them down.
Fast-forward 30 years to a follow-up survey. And guess what? The researchers found that those three per cent who had written down their goals had amassed as much wealth as the other 97 per cent put together.
Have I got your attention yet? Tempted to write any goals down?
The difference between success and mediocrity is rarely glaringly obvious. What is it that distinguishes one person from the next?
Research tells us that EQ plays a big part in creating success. And one of the key components of EQ is the ability to set long-term goals.
So will you read this article, perhaps feeling mildly interested or slightly amused, and click onto another page? Or will you pick up a pen and spend a half-hour thinking about your future, what drives you, what hinders you and, ultimately, the road you need to take to fulfil that personal vision that exists within us all?