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Personal and Professional Development - What's the Difference?

By Kevin Eikenberry

When people ask me about my business, I tell them I'm in the learning business - that we help organizations, teams and individuals reach their potential through learning. This is a fine statement and it does describe the breadth of what we do, but it often leads to the follow-up question like..."Do you do personal development stuff or just business skills training?"

My answer is yes.

Because I don't believe there is a significant difference between personal development and professional development.

Why do I say that?

The Reasons Why

Since my opinion might differ from yours, or perhaps you've never thought about it this, it makes sense to explain myself. There are at least five major reasons why I think personal and professional development are the same thing.

Learning is Learning. We were granted an amazing potential for learning at birth. Most of us haven't used very much of that potential. It's like we are mowing our lawn with a jet engine. Sure the jet engine has enough horsepower to turn the blade, but it has virtually unlimited potential that isn't being used. When we are learning we are increasing our capacity to learn more because we are flexing and exercising our "learning muscles." In other words whenever we are learning we are increasing our capacity to learn even more.

All Experience Counts. One of the powerful ways that we learn is by connecting new learning to what we already know. As we continue to build our knowledge and experiences, it allows us to make new connections faster. In other words, the more we learn, the more successful we will be at learning new things and in most situations; more quickly with deeper understanding.

We're a Whole Package. It isn't like we go to work and don't use anything we know from our personal life to be more effective professionally. And while we may not need to know how to repair rotating drum equipment at home - those skills might help you diagnose the problem with your washing machine. And even though you don't have to back up the system database at home, you might be able to deal with your home PC better because of what you learned at work. And while you hope you'll never need to follow the new Customer Service procedure at home, that procedure might teach you something a following a process, or being more understanding when you are the Customer.

The bottom line is that we are complete humans, and as such we take our entire work knowledge home, and bring all of our personal knowledge and experience to work. So any form of growth or development will benefit you both personally and professionally.

The Most Important Skills are Always the Most Important. Where does being a better listener help you - at home or at work? Both, of course. When you learn how to coach more effectively at work does it make you a better parent? It sure can!

We could make a long list of these valuable skills, from communication to dealing with conflict, to learning how to learn, to giving better feedback to being more creative you get the idea (and have probably thought of five other examples yourself by now). There are many skills that we might learn as "self improvement that will help us at work, and vice versa. So why label it one or the other?

Serendipity Rules. Because our learning grows based on connections, you never know when something you learned on the Discovery Channel might give you an "aha at work, or that the insight shared by the seminar leader at work helps you solve a vexing problem at home. Again, all development, all learning, all growth helps us in all parts of our lives.

But Wait

Does all of this mean that as I become a better knitter or bowler, I'll be more productive and successful at work? Yes, for the reasons I described above (and some others too).

That doesn't mean that your organization should send everyone to knitting class or bowling lessons, but it does mean that there is substantial merit in supporting any form of learning regardless of the content.

In the end, my goal is to help you view all skills more broadly in their application - instead of classifying some things as "personal development and therefore they don't matter at work.

Learning is learning. Personal development is professional development.

When you stop worrying about the distinctions, but rather think about the applications, you serve yourself and others much better.

About The Author

Kevin Eikenberry is a leadership expert and the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (, a learning consulting company. To receive a free Special Report on leadership that includes resources, ideas, and advice go to or call us at (317) 387-1424 or 888.LEARNER.


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