The power of ‘goal setting’ a leadership career and how to get started

The power of ‘goal setting’ a leadership career and how to get started

This is Part One of the Women’s Agenda Emerging Leaders Playbook, supported by Charles Sturt University. See the introduction here

Goal setting gives a leadership career direction—vital when it comes to managing the everyday setbacks that arise throughout your daily life at work.

But the thought of setting goals can, to some, feel like an odd and ever slightly indulgent process. For others, the thought of finding time for such an exercise may seem altogether daunting.

But the process is worth it. Indeed, most of the leaders we spoke to for this series participate in some form of personalised, formal goal-setting process. It varies from setting out five-year plans to yearly ambitions, quarterly and even monthly goals, depending on what they’re looking to achieve. They see it as vital to ensuring they can stay on course day to day, and for assessing which opportunities are worthwhile.

Hall & Wilcox partner Fay Calderone says it’s milestones that get her out of bed each morning. She completes one small goal before moving on to the next—but all of these achievements build towards a greater ambition.

That’s why we advocate the ‘goal-plotting’ method. Plot your path from one goal to the next, while staying flexible and adaptable to the changing conditions around you.

So, how do you get started? Where do you write it down? How can you formalise goals that might be in the back of your mind, that you’ve never put to paper or said aloud? We’ve got you covered.

Plays to plot your goals
Reconsider success

When determining goals, a simple mistake is to overanalyse traditional definitions of ‘success’. Executive coach Ellie Brown advises us to avoid this trap and start with our own measure and personalised vision of success before plotting goals. Avoid trying to solely meet other people’s expectations, says Ellie. “Don’t let anyone else define success for you. Determine what your purpose is, where it is that you actually want to go and what success will look like to you on getting there.” She suggests using this approach to map your life journey to achieve this purpose.

Outline ‘development’ goals

While you may have big goals surrounding your future leadership career, don’t forget to also consider general development goals: areas you should work on to improve your skills as a leader, especially over a specified time period. These goals can help you determine how and where to invest in your own coaching and development. Common development areas for leadership include improving communication skills, developing financial acumen and strategic thinking.    

Make the time

Sounds simple, but when you’re in the thick of managing a career, making time for goal plotting a course of action can quickly fall off the priority list. Diarise this time and treat it as precious and fundamental to your own development. Remember that it will ultimately save you time later on. The short amount of time spent pinpointing your goals will ultimately determine which daily activities are vital to your personalised success—and which are a waste of time.

Determine goal-plotting and check-in cadence

The frequency of goal plotting and the number of goals being set will vary from person to person. If you set more traditional yearly goals, then make sure you schedule frequent check-ins along the way to track how you’re going. If it’s quarterly goals, then perhaps set monthly or even weekly check-ins to determine your progress and to reset and reframe if necessary. Some women we spoke to will check in on their goals daily, in order to best determine how to prioritise their tasks.

Get familiar with the goals you create

Many women choose to plot their goals on paper, but in the chaos of everyday life these goals can quickly go AWOL. Real goals need to go beyond a single sheet of paper. If that means pinning them up in the shower, keeping them in your wallet or on an app in your phone, then do it. The best bet is to keep your goals short and simple, so they’re easy to remember.

Keep aspects of your goals specific

‘I will lose five kilograms’ is a much more tangible and achievable personal goal than ‘I will lose weight’. The former is specific and offers a clear objective for which to track and measure success. It also offers an end point that can be celebrated.

When it comes to plotting career and leadership goals, getting specific with your goals can be even more challenging than losing weight. The key can be to set headline goals (such as ‘get promoted’) with two to three actionable and measurable actions below each. The headline goal may take months, but the measurable actions should be easier to achieve, and can be ticked off and updated during your regular self-check-ins.

Voice your goals

Telling a colleague, mentor or friend about your goals will help make you accountable and enable you to collect feedback and support along the way. PhD candidate Arundihita Bhanjdeo says rather than write her goals down, she thinks out loud with a colleague. “That ensures another person knows about it, and it holds you accountable,” she says. It’s no longer a dream, it’s an active pursuit.

Be flexible and adaptable

Life changes. People change. Workplaces change. Our interests, desires and priorities change. It’s important to be specific with goals but also flexible and adaptable to change.

Staying flexible and adaptable builds resilience and will prepare you for greater adversity and challenges in your life and career.

Have stretch targets

Obviously your goals need to be achievable—but achieving them shouldn’t be a cinch. Goals should stretch beyond your usual skillset. They should drive you to work harder at certain tasks and make yourself seriously uncomfortable in others. Don’t simply expect to meet all your goals; challenge yourself to potentially fail.

Now read: How to get mentors and sponsors who can support your career.

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