“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” – John Maxwell

This has been a favorite quote of mine for some time… a good reminder to take advantage of the happenings around us and leverage them toward personal or professional development. But looking at it in the context of the 2014 workplace, I’m not sure that the last three words are as true, valid, or helpful as they once were.

In today’s hyper-competitive environment, growth is no longer optional; it’s non-negotiable. Treading water is not a valid strategy in fast-moving business currents. Maintaining the status quo – whether it’s your customer base, technology platform, or skill set – doesn’t keep you even; it actually means you’re moving backward…and fast. This applies to organizations and individuals.

Successful leaders recognize this reality and take conscious steps to make growth a priority… for themselves and those around them. They do it seamlessly by cultivating three key qualities – qualities that support business results as well as professional development: conversation, creativity, and curiosity.

Conversation

As my co-author, Beverly Kaye, and I wrote in Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want, careers are developed one conversation at a time… over time. Frequent, short conversations with employees about strengths, opportunities, interests, and goals are the lifeblood of development. They activate awareness and motivation. They are the connective tissue among events and occurrences, musings and reactions, and insights and action.

Leaders can help others grow by embedding development conversations into the flow of work. Lengthy individual development planning summits may no longer serve the needs of our time-starved environment. So it comes down to finding moments and opportunities for brief – even 90-second – conversations that help others reflect, connect, and grow.

Creativity

Growth is not the exclusive purview of the training department. Smart leaders are creative leaders. They know that powerful development happens organically and they constantly scan the environment for opportunities to make it happen. Where others see work that’s not getting done, they see a learning assignment. Where others see a tough business problem, they see an opportunity to stretch minds and skills. Where others see scarcity, they see a chance to become innovative.

In today’s flatter and more flat-out workplace, learning and development can’t depend upon transfers, promotions, or moves of any kind. Leaders and individuals alike must apply greater creativity to finding in-role assignments, activities, and responsibilities that will provide a stretch and challenge without making a move on the organizational chart.

Curiosity

Depending upon whom you ask, curiosity is defined as a competency, skill, quality, or emotion. It’s the capacity to demonstrate keen interest, an inquisitive spirit, an eager drive to understand, and an appetite for experimentation. And it’s an essential driver of growth and development.

Curious employees find opportunities for growth… and they find growth in the opportunities before them. Curious leaders model the way… asking insightful and probing questions of themselves and others. They take risks, step into uncharted territory, and always ask themselves what can be learned from their experiences (positive and negative).

Conversation, creativity, and curiosity are the key levers enabling growth in today’s workplace. Leaders and employees who value and practice them will find that development naturally follows.

So, no offense Mr. Maxwell… but let’s align your inspiring quote with the realities of 2014:

Change is inevitable. Growth is non-negotiable.

What about you? What fuels your own growth? What can you do to help those around you develop and grow?