If you are not learning, you are not leading.
Being a compassionate leader requires you to be a proactive life-long learner, to stay informed on things that will affect the people you influence, your stakeholders. If your company provides a generous professional development budget and time off to learn, lucky you.
However, many professionals must find ways of learning on their own that are high impact and low cost in order to stay current, develop leadership skills and advance careers. There are many online options including Udemy, Coursera and LinkedIn Learning. However, when you find live in-person opportunities there is a built-in benefit of meeting new people while you gain an education.
Although taking classes online is convenient, learning in the real world can offer additional perks. It can be more fun, the food is often better at these venues than at your computer and some people retain more when they are in a three-dimensional classroom or event.
Here are three ways to finding professional development that will not break your budget while providing you opportunities to expand your network:
- Attend alumni events, conferences and speaker series. Often universities have local chapters that curate great monthly events at a reasonable price, in addition to their bigger annual events. Last Fall, I attended the annual Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit in New York City. This world-class program blended talks from top tier executives as well as a pitch contest featuring new tech breakthroughs. The price was $300 for professionals and $50 for students.
- Attend your dream conference as a volunteer, fellow or scholarship recipient. First, based on your interests, create a list of dream conferences or events you would like to attend and then, investigate options to participate in a way that is affordable through their website or contact organizers directly. My list includes TED, PopTech, Social Venture Circle and The Nantucket Project and I have been very fortunate to attend two of the four so far, one as a guest of my employer and one, at a discount in consideration of my status as a start-up founder, earlier in my career. Normally, tickets for these events range from $1,665 to $10,000 per participant.
- Attend or create local classes and events. Two of my dream conference organizations have created opportunities to attend or create programs locally that are much more affordable and accessible. TED has spun off TEDx, and The Nantucket Project has created The Neighborhood Project that provides the tools to create events using their films. My friends and I are using my living room once a month to hold these free programs and they have been enjoyable and informative. In addition, you can explore classes and educational events in your area through schools, libraries, museums, local press, coworking spaces and Eventbrite.
To keep on track, develop annual goals for professional development and plan to attend at least one class or educational event each quarter. By the end of the year, you will be more current, confident and connected.