Become Your Own High Potential: Part 3—Engage in Targeted Professional and Personal Development

We discussed creating your vision and assessing your strengths and development areas. Now it’s time to design a targeted professional and personal development plan for getting from here to there.



A number of helpful models exist in the organizational realms for planning and guiding change. The basic premise is this:


We got a sense of your current state from Step 2, when you selected and completed your self-assessments.

We caught a vision of your future state from Step 1, when you created the vision for yourself.

Now, for the middle part, where the magic happens: Gap Analysis & The Change Plan

Let’s break it down.


Step 1. Gap Analysis

First, the gap analysis. This involves simply comparing what you need to have in your arsenal to what you currently have. For this comparison, it is helpful to think in terms of knowledge, skills, and abilities as well as education and experience, and even more subtler things like motives and drives, desired impact, and preferred work environments. You should have a pretty decent idea of what you have from the previous step.

But how do you figure out what you need? In Step 1, you drafted a vision of your future, but it’s likely that you need to add some meat to those bones to more fully understand what you need to successfully fulfill that vision. Try these three ways of doing just that:

  1. Study the career you want using references like O*NET and other resources (e.g., Google “day in the life of” and the career you envision, and you’re likely to find someone—or 20 someones—who gives you the lowdown). These are helpful for laying out what you’re likely to face in this career.
  2. Review position descriptions. Search online job postings for the career you imagine. These can give you a sense for what qualifications others may be expecting in you.
  3. Talk with people who are doing it now. This really allows you to get the insider view of the career you have in mind and may alert you to opportunities you didn’t realize before.

When you do this background research, you may realize that you want to tweak your vision a bit to better fit what you had in mind. That is okay. This is an iterative process of zeroing in on what really excites you and makes you really look forward to work.

Once you have clarified what you need to successfully fulfill your vision, you can compare these to your current competencies. When you do, you may find yourself in one of three scenarios.


Scenario 1. You are overqualified or fully qualified with few or no noticeable development needs.

Life is about constant growth and evolution. In cases where you have few or no development needs, your natural and human drive to learn and grow is unmet. It is possible that you glossed over your development needs, so it makes sense to revisit your gap analysis. However, if you come up empty-handed again, there is a real risk that you may be bored once you reach your future state. To avoid that, you may want to clarify a niche that excites you, and within which you could dominate and/or innovate. Think in terms or breadth, depth, specialization, or innovation, and then contemplate your development needs again. 

For example, if your vision is to launch that app you’ve been thinking about and you have all the technical skills you need to do so, you may decide that you need to sharpen your entrepreneurial skills to build out a business, increase your knowledge of how to secure funding, or fine-tune your personal image and confidence to strongly move toward your vision.

Bottom line: If you are already overqualified or fully qualified, you might end up bored and unfulfilled without some fine-tuning of your goal.


Scenario 2. You have hearty combination of transferable skills and development needs.

In this scenario, you have a good set of competencies you can apply in the future and have a few gaps that need filling. Prioritize and select one to three development needs that are most urgent or that will give you the most bang for your development buck.

Bottom line: If you have a combination of relevant strengths and growth areas, you may be on track toward fulfilling your vision.


Scenario 3. There is almost no overlap between your current competencies and what you need.

In such cases, you are essentially starting over. That is okay, and there is a time and place for that. Just be aware that you may have a long road ahead of you to reach your destination. Be sure to leverage mentors and other types of guides so that you make efficient and effective progress toward your goal. They also can help you determine which gaps are most important to fill first.

Bottom line: If few of your current competencies are transferable to your vision, you may have a long road ahead of you before you attain a level of mastery. Make sure you’re up for the journey and anticipate and prepare now for any assistance you may need along the way.

Now that you’ve identified your key development areas, it is time for the second part: Create the Change Plan


Step 2. Change Plan

Helpful tools to guide personal and professional development can be found in literature on self-managed learning. One such tool is the Learning Agreement or Learning Contract. This tool takes you through a five-step process of outlining:

1. Where have I been? (I address this in Step 6 of this article series)

2. Where am I now? (Addressed in Step 2 of this article series)

3. Where do I want to get to? (Addressed in Step 1 of this article series)

4. How will I get there?

5. How will I know I have arrived?

Item 4, how will I get there, is the change plan. It involves planning the specific activities to cultivate the competencies you need in the future. For each competency you identified, take a moment to brainstorm what you could do to develop in the ways you want. Consider the following:

  • Formal education
  • Community activities
  • Low-cost or free online classes (e.g., CourseRA)
  • Mentoring or shadowing relationships
  • Volunteer, part-time, or job experiences
  • Books, videos, and other resources
  • Professional or expert assistance

Once you have brainstormed the options, select the two or three that seem best and most appropriate for you. Then fully investigate and pursue those options, or return to your list to select a better option. Figuring out the right approach to developing your knowledge and skills may take a bit of trial and error, so keep at it until you find the best option for you.

Item 5, how will I know I have arrived, is critical for clarifying what successful development of the competency looks like and when you know you can consider yourself “done” with that endeavor. For example, if you want to improve your writing skills, what exactly does that mean? Do you want to write better blogs, emails, white papers, reports, or something else? What would it look like when written well? Pick a model you want to be able to emulate.

Once you know which competencies you want to develop, how you will develop them, and when you can consider them “developed,” you are ready to take action and start moving in a deliberate way toward fulfilling your vision.

What development activities have you found to be most helpful?