Why Leaders Need to Rethink Goal Setting

January is the season of setting goals. Whether you frame them as resolutions for the new year, strategizing on your team’s roadmap for the next quarter, or you are thinking ahead to your performance review, setting ambitious goals is often a part of the planning process at the start of the year. 

As high-performers, we are naturally inclined to think of goals in terms of outcomes and achievements. I will increase sales in my department by 20%. I will get promoted this year. I will run my first marathon. While these are noble goals to have, they aren’t the kinds of successes that actually contribute to or support personal growth, professional growth, or your growth as a leader.

And while framing your goals only as targets to hit can be energizing and motivating, these performance goals may not actually be in service of what you are trying to accomplish long-term or who you want to become as a leader. Instead of focusing only on an achievement, think about what you would like to reflect back on at the end of the year. On December 31, 2021, what do you want to have added to your leadership toolkit, and what do you want to have abandoned? 

This process-oriented perspective will help you to plan how to achieve the quantitative goals you and your team set for yourselves, while also keeping in mind the bigger picture. When we have more control over the process, we can choose what to focus on. When implemented across a team, this approach will also strengthen your team’s sustainable high-performance, allowing you and them to rebound more effectively after a setback, pivot more quickly at crucial inflection points, and innovate more creatively when the pressure is on.

It can be challenging to switch from setting what seems like more tangible goals to ones that are based on process and skill development. A good place to start is to take inventory of where you currently are today. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? It can help to ask yourself some questions that can get your thought process going as you think about where you want to be a year from now.

At Valor, our proven digital exercises and coaches use reflective questions with our clients to help them create goals for their teams and for themselves as leaders, to begin to evaluate where they currently stand as well as to identify areas to focus on for the upcoming year. This is the start of the goal-setting process and helps us to identify where we are right now, where we want to go, and what it will take to get us there.

Here are some reflective questions to consider when creating your own goals for the year, as well as helping your team design goals.

1. What are three things that would motivate you to do what you are currently doing for the next 10-20 years or the rest of your life? 

2. What were three challenges you struggled to overcome during the past year?

3. What would you like more of this year that you had last year? What would you like less of?

4. If you had all the money you needed at the moment, who would you be and what would you be doing?

5. If you had to create your own university-level curriculum for living a good life, what would this look like? What kinds of classes and experiences would be a part of this program?

6. What do you want to add to or enhance in your life? You can break it down into categories: as a leader, as a teammate, as a contributor to a project, as a partner, as a parent, as a friend.

You don’t need to answer all of these questions, but use them as a jumping-off point. Think about the top 3-5 things that you accomplished, learned, or overcame last year that you are most proud of. What did it take for you to make those happen? 

By reframing your annual goal setting as less about achieving specific metrics or performance goals and more about the process of building and refining your leadership skills, your successes will reach beyond the benchmarks and outcomes you set for yourself and your team for the year ahead.

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