The Career Growth Framework: Realize Your Career, Personal, and Professional Potential



Here is a simple “3 Growth” model for thinking about your career growth.

With things like a “jobless economic recovery,” careers ending, and a “skills-for-hire” economy, it’s even more important to focus on growth while managing your career.

At the end of the day, YOU play the most important role in your career growth – own it.

This past year reminded me of a very valuable lessons – follow the growth.  This means follow your own growth and growth in the marketplace.  When there’s no growth, make some.

Career Growth, Professional Growth, and Personal Growth

Steve Elston, our print and web publications manager on our patterns & practices team, shared this simple frame with our  team for differentiating and thinking about development paths:

  • Career Development – Become a stronger leader.
  • Professional Development – Become a better craftsmen.
  • Personal Development – Become a more capable person.

I think an effective way to think of this is …

“Are you the person, the professional, the manager, or the executive you want to be?”

Make Yourself Bigger

In terms of personal development, I think “become a more *capable* person” is a great distinction over something like “become a better person.”

Rather than question self-worth or value, you put the focus on improving your effectiveness and capabilities.

It reminds me of a quote …

“You don’t overcome challenges by making them smaller but by making yourself bigger.” — John Maxwell

How To Think About Career Growth, Professional Growth, and Personal Growth

Steve shared some quick ways to think about who you can leverage for your growth and what sort of awareness you need for effective growth:

Category Requires Awareness Of Who Helps
Career Growth
  • Business Trends
  • Industry Trends
  • Mentors
  • Leaders
  • Colleagues
  • Manager
Professional Growth
  • Organizational Trends
  • Industry Trends
  • Mentors
  • Manager
  • Colleagues
Personal Growth
  • Self
  • Friends and Family
  • Leaders and Mentors
  • Role Models

As you can see from the table, the key to career growth is awareness of the business, the key to professional growth is awareness of organizational trends, and the key to personal growth is self-awareness.

What, Who, and How

What Who How

Steve also shared a sample way to think about contributing factors to overall job satisfaction.

  • What You Do – The industry, the company, the organization, the manager, and the job.
  • Who You Do It With – Co-workers, partners, customers, and mentors.
  • How You Do It – Technology, process, philosophy, organization culture.

Steve provides some cutting questions for thinking through these concerns:

  • What matters most to you?
  • Who has the power to improve the situation?
  • How can you influence your job satisfaction?

Knowledge, Attitude, Skills and Habits (KASH model)

Steve shared the KASH box model with our team:

  • Knowledge – what you know.
  • Attitude – your attitudes, along with your underlying values and beliefs.
  • Skills – your capabilities.
  • Habits – what you actually do.

The KASH box is a performance coaching tool and it’s a simple way to look at the gap between knowing and doing and the “transfer of training” problem.  People know what to do, but they don’t do it, or don’t want to.  A lot of people are hired for “skills” and “knowledge,” but fired for “attitude” and “habits.”  In other words, it’s easy to focus on knowledge and skills but often it is people’s attitudes and habits that limit them.

Interestingly, if you know what to do, but you’re not doing what you know, it’s one of the simplest and most effective ways to unleash your growth.  Just start testing your results.

There’s a video on the KASH box at Kashbox

Mentors are the Short-Cuts

The right mentors can help you avoid the chutes and climb the ladders more effectively.  John deVadoss, our patterns & practices team Product Unit Manager, shared his key tips on how to effectively leverage mentors:

  • Know what you want and what you want from the relationship.
  • Be proactive – you need to drive the meetings and ask the right questions.
  • Keep an open mind regarding who this person might be.
  • Think about people who have been your mentors in the past.
  • You can have more than one mentor.

This reflects a lot of my own experience.  One of my most important lessons learned is that mentors really are the short-cuts.  If you find somebody who’s “been there” and “done that,” it’s like having a tour guide.  Their maps from experience can save you a lot of wasted time and help you avoid obstacles, as well as find shorter paths to your destinations.

A mentor can also be great for helping you find your blind spots as well as giving your more objective feedback on your attitudes and habits that might be limiting you.  This means finding mentors that are committed to your success and you trust their feedback and perspective.  Usually a good place to look is in your past.  You can draw from people that have helped you before.

I make it a habit to use a sounding board of multiple mentors for growth in different areas.  I have a few vital mentors for ongoing growth, and then I supplement with mentors for specific things I need to learn.

I also give back and I mentor others to help them optimize their growth and get results.   A lot of times, life is like Chutes and Ladders. You can climb up ladders only to slide back down.

Who’s Job Do You Want?

One of my mentors uses the question, “Who’s job do you want?” as a great forcing function:

  • Do you know what you want?
  • Is there a proven path?
  • What experiences and skills do you need to get there?

The other beauty of this is it gives your managers and support network a good mental model for your career path, starting with the end in mind.

Putting It All Together

Steve outlined a simple roadmap for putting it all together:

  1. Know what you want.
  2. Get a mentor.
  3. Build your plan.
  4. Ask for support.

Every day, is the perfect day, to become more of the person, professional, manager or executive you want to be.  Enjoy the process and remind yourself it’s the journey and the destination, and remember to periodically check that the ladder you’re climbing is up against the right wall.

You Might Also Like

How I Think About My Career Growth
Thinking About Career Paths
Skills for the Road Ahead
How To Improve Job Satisfaction
How To Figure Out What You Really Want


  1. 1. Know what you want.
    2. Get a mentor.
    3. Build your plan.
    4. Ask for support.

    Yes!!! That is a very very succinct, yet amazingly comprehensive plan for anyone wanting to do anything. I’m putting that on a post-it note by my computer. Awesome, J.D.

  2. Perfect post for me today as I’m working on growing/changing my career. Thanks for the great insights, as always!

  3. What may be missing here is how to handle the inevitable failure or evolution of discovering that one may not want what one thinks one wants initially. This is a mix of both the world changing so that some jobs may not exist anymore with new job titles being created but also that as one tries things that wants and desires get refined or tweaked. For example, now my current career progression is towards strategic managment, while before I wanted to be an architect. I like making plans and drafting various solutions so I think it is a good fit, but as I get more experience with strategic management, I suspect how it fits for me will evolve.

    Just as something that seems similar to this, I think you may enjoy reading
    “Triple the Value of Your Money Through the Strategy of Giving!” Some of the terms may seem odd, but I think it fits well with this in terms of how does one fit into the world.

  4. KASH box model looks interesting. Focusing on improving a little in each area can take us a long way.

    Finding (right) mentors is not always easy. Sometimes it’s a matter of luck.

  5. Hi JD – gosh I’m glad I’ve ‘found you’ .. ie I can access your working knowledge, emanating out of co-professional workers – you set things out so clearly and then summarise succinctly. As entrepreneurs in the net world we can all learn so much, by taking these principles and adjusting to our day to day lives – but following the maxims set out.

    I’ll be back to watch the KASHbox video – sounds intriguing and a great learning opportunity .. if we could get the four skills into balance – we’d all be better representatives of the human race.

    Great post – thanks
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  6. @ Jannie

    The beauty is that once you have a vision for the end in mind, it’s a lot easier to find examples and mentors that can help you on your path.

    @ Positively Present

    What you do for a living has a lot of impact on your day to day. Good luck with your growth.

    @ JB

    That’s true. I do think careers are an evolution, whether you’re growing yourself or growing the job. Otherwise, you slide backwards.

    I do think it’s important to distinguish between whether you’re more of an “Entreprenuer” or a “freelancer”, as Seth Godin would put it.

    @ Avani

    I especially like how the KASH box reminds us how important our mindsets and actions are. Knowledge is great, but applied knowledge is best.

    I find the best way to get the best mentors is to seek them out. Sometimes you get lucky, but I think it’s more of a numbers game.

    @ Hilary

    Thank you. I think we have a brave new world ahead of us and I think principles are a great way to help pave paths.

    Balancing, prioritizing, and making the right trade-offs is always key.

    @ Fred

    It’s ironic that it’s resistance that creates our growth and experiences.

  7. This is great advice, and comes at a perfect time for me. I’ve been thinking about how I want to grow in the coming months and years and while there are many decisions to make, this post clearly outlines what I can do (and where I can turn for help) once those decisions have been made. Thanks for sharing all your insights!

  8. I loved the distinction between becoming a more capable person vs a better person, you made me thinking here. Great post J.D.! And it does all start with knowing what you want, that’s always the first step.

  9. Hi J.D., I was reading though this article and although it’s a lot of good information at once, the thing that stuck out to me was the quote in the middle. What John Maxwell said was very profound, that we don’t overcome our challenges by making them smaller, but by making ourselves bigger. That’s going to stick in my mind for a while. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  10. @ Melissa

    Ultimately, it boils down to being on your path. It sounds like you’re finding your path.

    @ Lana

    I think it’s a healthy outlook. Start from the foundation that we’re all worthy and valuable as human beings, then build capabilities from there.

    @ Hulbert

    Maxwell has an amazing way with words. I think it’s pragmatic advice given that we’ll always have challenges throughout life.

  11. I’ve been seeing the ladder a lot analogy. Hmmm, coincidence? I think not.

    I love the idea of Career Growth, Professional Growth, and Personal Growth all tied together. We can’t have one without the other. We all need a foundation and it starts with ourselves. A strong core will help us succeed almost anywhere.

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