Published: Jul 25, 2017
As an executive, you may feel as if you’re adrift in the world, working hard but not achieving something worthwhile, somewhere meaningful. This could be because you haven’t spent time thinking about what you want in life and haven’t set yourself clear goals. Would you set out on a major journey with no real idea of your destination? And wouldn’t you want to have a clear idea of where you’re heading in life?
Goal setting is a powerful process for thinking about your ideal future and for motivating yourself to turn your vision of this future into a reality. As expected, goal setting is a key aspect of any effective Executive Coaching process, including leadership, high performance, career and team coaching. In my coaching practice, once the client’s situation has been jointly explored through the Appreciative Inquiry and the Options Exploration steps of the Coaching Process, we are then able to Commit to Action and go through the deep process of goal setting.
As I suggest to my family and close friends: if you don’t already set goals regularly, you may want to start now. As you make this technique part of your life you’ll find your career will become more meaningful, satisfying and successful as it will be part of a holistic and fully integrated, values driven life plan.
Setting goals gives you long-term vision and short-term motivation. Goals serve a directive function; they direct attention towards relevant activities, and away from irrelevant activities. They have an energising function, leading to greater efforts both cognitively and behaviourally. In other words, goals help create focus on what is important as you’ll quickly spot the distractions that can easily lead you astray.
By setting sharp, clearly defined goals, you can measure and take pride in the achievement of those goals and you’ll see progress in what might have previously looked like a long pointless grind. You will also raise your self-efficacy (and confidence) as you recognise your own ability and competence in achieving the goals you’ve set.
Most of my clients are senior executives hence, they are typically familiar with the concept of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals within an organizational performance management system. However, they are all surprised to hear there is a “science” behind goal setting which can lead to a richer, more meaningful and more successful career and life.
The science of goal setting is explained in detail by the leading pioneer in coaching psychology, Dr Anthony Grant, in his breakthrough 2006 book Evidence Based Coaching Handbook. Building on the work of other internationally renowned psychologists and executive coaches, he helped “crack the code” to setting and achieving goals successfully. Since then, Grant has continued to add to the extensive body of knowledge on goal setting in coaching practice, as discussed in the 2013 book Beyond Goals: Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring.
Below I provide a brief guide to goal setting, which I use in introductory conversations with my coaching clients. Over the years, this approach has helped hundreds of executives view their time, indeed their lives, very differently. And as previously mentioned, it is based on evidence-based theory and practice…therefore it works!
The first step in setting goals is to consider what you want to achieve in your lifetime, or at least by a distant age in the future. Setting lifetime goals gives you the overall perspective that shapes all other aspects of your life and hence of your decision making.
On the other hand, if your goals are too distant into the future, you may feel overwhelmed by them. You may not know where or how to begin! This is why I work with the client in setting short, medium and long-term goals (see item 3.d. below).
To give a broad and balanced coverage of all important areas in your life, it is best to set goals in the following categories (or other categories that are important to you and are agreed with your coach):
In other words, when the things that you do and the way you behave match your values, life is usually good – you're satisfied and content. But when these don't align with your personal values, that's when things feel... wrong. This can be a real source of unhappiness.
Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person (or organization). These guiding principles guide your behaviour, helping choose between one action and another (even if unconsciously). Ideally, they can help you understand the difference between right and wrong and help you stay on right path towards fulfilling your goals.
However, developing a deep understanding of your core values is not that easy. Depending on the source, you will find that there are more than 50 values and they include: accountability, accuracy, achievement, adventurousness, altruism, ambition, assertiveness, and that’s just the ones starting with “A”!
An experienced coach can help you with a guided selection process to arrive at your top 10. Crystallising your thinking further to identify your top 5 values can be even more powerful. Linking your goals to your top 3-5 values will help you stay motivated and on track whenever the going gets tough in reaching your goals.
The diagram below (from Mappalicious.com) illustrates how aligning your goals with your values results in motivation. When goals are autonomously chosen and aligned with your values, they are said to be integrated or intrinsically driven, which is the psychological mechanism by which you will be motivated to pursue your goals.
On the other hand, if you are forced to carry out goals that are not aligned with your values, they will feel like they are imposed on you, i.e., you are required to do them. Those goals are said to be external because and you will struggle to be motivated, unless you find a way to link them to your values. This is where a nuanced coaching conversation can prove to be invaluable.
Once they have clarified their personal core values, many coaching clients request assistance in understanding whether there is a disconnect between their personal and the organisation’s values. Sometimes this is not consciously evident to the client; they just know they are lacking motivation or just not delivering, despite their best attempts. Again, skilled coaching can make a significant difference here.
When setting and writing your goals, ask yourself to what extent they:
Goal setting is at the heart of any effective coaching process because it provides a tangible and real representation of a desired outcome. Without goals, both our careers and our lives would be directionless, following other people’s lead. However, setting career goals without a systematic approach can lead to lack of motivation, frustration, unmet career expectations and ultimately an unfulfilling life. It is therefore important that you:
As you make this technique part of your life you’ll find your career will become more meaningful, satisfying and successful as it will be part of a holistic and fully integrated, values driven life plan.