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Why is Goal Setting Important in Executive Coaching?

Why is Goal Setting Important in Executive Coaching?

Many executives come to coaching with clear ideas regarding the areas they want assistance with. For example, instead of having “To run a marathon” as a goal, it is more powerful to state it as “To have completed my first City to Surf marathon by August”. Clearly, a detailed action plan would need to be developed (followed by a lot of hard work) to achieve this goal!

If you don’t already set goals regularly, 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.

As an executive, you may feel as if you’re adrift in the world, working hard but not achieving something worthwhile, something or 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. The coach will most likely ask: “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. This is therefore a key aspect of any Coaching process (leadership, high performance, career or team coaching) at ProVeritas Group.

Would you set out on a major journey with no real idea of your destination?

Why Set Goals?

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.

When setting goals, ask yourself to what extent they:

  • Serve a directive function?
  • Do they direct your attention towards relevant activities?
  • Energise you? Encourage you to be persistent?
  • Could you stick at this in the way you’ve expressed them?
  • Lead to the use of task-relevant information and strategies
  • i.e. can they be expressed as SMART (see below) goals?

Lifetime Goals

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

To give a broad and balanced coverage of all important areas in your life, it is best to set goals in some of the following categories (or other categories that are important to you and are agreed with your coach):

  • Career – what level do you want to reach in your career?
  • Financial – how much do you want to earn, by what stage?
  • Education – is there any knowledge you want to acquire?
  • Family – how do you want to be seen by members in your family?
  • Artistic – do you want to achieve artistic goals?
  • Physical/Health – do you want to achieve health and fitness goals?
  • Pleasure – how do you want to enjoy yourself?
  • Civic life – do you want to make the world a better place, how?

Motivation to Achieve Goals

When goals are autonomously chosen and congruent 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 and achieve your goals.

But developing a deep understanding of your core values is easier said than done! Therefore, it is important that you spend some time going through the exercise of identifying them. A useful tool is the free Values in Action Survey (VIA) of Character Strengths Survey from the University of Pennsylvania.

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.

Further Tips for Setting Goals

  • Write goals down – this crystallises them and gives them more force. Remember: what doesn’t get written down doesn’t get done!
  • State each goal as a positive (approach) statement – express goals positively and constructively, not using avoidance language. “Execute this technique well” is a better goal that “Don’t make this stupid mistake”.
  • Be precise – set precise goals putting dates, times and amounts so you can measure achievement.
  • Set priorities – this helps avoid feeling overwhelmed and helps direct attention and resources.
  • Develop goal hierarchy – break down goals from “higher order” or values-driven (e.g., to have a happy family), to second order goals and action plans. Keeping goals small and incremental helps direct attention and gives more opportunities for building confidence.

understanding goal hierarchies

Source: Grant, A. (2013), Beyond Goals: Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring, p.68
  • Focus on mastery – when the focus is on mastering a task or learning and developing a solid understanding of a new field, the person feels less stress and feels more positive about achieving the goal. When the focus is on performance (e.g., being superior, smarter or the best at a task) stress levels may become too high and adversely affect goal achievement.

Smart Goals

A useful way of making goals more powerful is to make them SMART:

  • S Specific
  • M Measurable
  • A Attainable
  • R Realistic
  • T Time bound

For example, instead of having “To run a marathon” as a goal, it is more powerful to state it as “To have completed my first City to Surf marathon by August”. Clearly, a detailed action plan would need to be developed (followed by a lot of hard work) to achieve this goal!

Putting it all together

If you don’t already set goals regularly, start now. Make sure they are values-driven, detailed, cover all aspects of your life, and that they are SMART.

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.

 

Dr Ruby Campbell is the Managing Partner and Founder of ProVeritas Group Pty Ltd, a firm dedicated to growing the leaders and organisations of the 21st Century in Australia and Asia Pacific since 2009. She was Adjunct Professor at the UNSW Business School in 2010-2016 and continues to work with UNSW postgraduate students as an International Mentor. She leads the Sydney Lean-In Circle, researches and writes on various coaching psychology topics.

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