April 2012
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TD Magazine

Stretch Your Professional Comfort Zone

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ed Betof's "big, risky leap of faith" from education to management development and training proved to be life changing and career defining.

Ed Betof

Senior Fellow, Human Capital at The Conference Board and President, Betof Associates LLC

A pioneer in leadership development, Ed Betof also serves as an executive coach for the Center for Creative Leadership and was a founding senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's CLO Doctoral Program. He served on the ASTD Board of Directors from 2004 to 2007, and is the author of Leaders as Teachers (ASTD Press/Berrett-Koehler, 2009) and co-author of Just Promoted!

All of your degrees are from Temple University. What were your goals?

I began my career as a secondary school teacher and educational leader. I did not even know that the profession of learning and leadership development existed when I finished my undergraduate course work in 1968.

My undergraduate and master's degrees focused on human health education and biological sciences. At the doctoral level, I was one of two individuals who pioneered the competency-based, interdisciplinary doctoral program at Temple University. My areas of concentration were team and organizational development, with a heavy dose of curriculum and program design.

I took what I thought was a big, risky leap of faith when I left the educational world after nine years and assumed my first management development and training corporate role. It turned out to be an enormously valuable and challenging transition, and one that changed my life. I never looked back.

What steps did you take to grow in your career?

I regularly sought new and challenging assignments with the developmental goal of always stretching my professional comfort zone. It was important to me to personally model what I was teaching and coaching others to do.

In my mid-30s I was afforded two fabulous opportunities to lead functional areas far outside of my areas of expertise. These two assignments lasted almost eight years, and I reported to the president of a multibillion dollar pharmaceutical company. Those experiences have helped me in every subsequent role in my career.

Who has influenced you most in your career?

My wife Nila has been my greatest influence, sounding board, and supporter. We have shared a 42-year, dual-executive career and marriage.

Others who influenced me in very important ways were Herb Conrad, former president of Roche Pharmaceuticals, and Ed Ludwig, chairman and former CEO at BD, where I spent the last 10.5 years of my career as worldwide vice president of talent management and CLO. Both of these executives have been remarkably successful business leaders with a very high developmental orientation and impeccable ethics.


How do you stay current in the learning field?

As a senior fellow at The Conference Board, I have the privilege of interacting with many of the top executives in our profession. I consciously teach new subjects, which stimulates new personal thinking and learning. Volunteering for a wide range of "give-back" responsibilities, including the ASTD Awards Strategy Committee, also helps me to stay current.

What books would you recommend?

I believe it is very important for learning leaders to read books in and outside of the learning field to stay current and help innovate in one's organization. Jim Collins's two most recent books, How the Mighty Fall and Great by Choice, are highly valuable evidence-based texts. ASTD's Leadership Handbook is an outstanding resource to which I refer frequently. I also read many historical biographies of great leaders.

What advice would you give to those wanting to advance their careers in the learning field?

Be and act like a businessperson with specialized skills and knowledge in learning, leadership development, and talent management. Constantly learn. Continuously improve everything you do. Take on stretch and zigzag assignments that expand your experience and professional comfort zone.

Carefully manage your personal brand and especially be perceived as someone who always delivers on commitments and goes the extra mile, and with whom others wish to collaborate. Be active in your profession ... give to others and they will reciprocate.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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