Part 1: Make it an Approach Goal
It’s now that time of year when we anticipate a new beginning, a new year to start fresh on the things that we know we should or want to do or be, but up until now we just haven’t had the time, energy, or motivation. A new beginning gives us hope because it seems like a natural starting point for making a change. The only problem is that most good intentions remain intentions and very rarely sustained action – proverbial New Year’s resolution that works for about a week and the rest of the year is back to same old habits.
As you are thinking about the changes you want to make in the New Year, we encourage you to think about the type of leader you want to be and what small changes you can intentionally practice to reach that goal. Changes are easiest when goals have certain characteristics, there is an action plan for achieving goals, and a coping plan for overcoming anticipated obstacles.
Frame Goals as Approach Goals
Most people I know have heard about SMART goals and when I mention the word, they usually say “yeah, yeah, SMART goals,” in a very knowing and “don’t bother me with something basic” tone. And yet, when they set their goals, they are anything but SMART – vague, unclear, not time-bound, and doomed to fail. So, step one is to set a goal that is specific enough that you know what you are trying to accomplish, you know how it look when it is completed, and you know when it will be accomplished. When it comes to leadership development goals, this can be tricky because leadership is a life-long journey, so you never truly reach a destination per se and measuring, therefore, is similarly tricky. But, you can put in horizons for yourself, that give you evidence that you are making progress. An example might be: “to effectively use inspirational motivation tactics once a week for the next 6 months, measured by feedback from teammates and mentors.”
See how that is time-bound, a specific behavior, and a measurable? Now, the other key to setting a good goal, which is often glossed over, is how the goal is framed. Usually we have an implicit idea of what we want to change, but articulating it into an actionable goal is challenging. The hardest goal to reach is one that avoids a particular behavior: quit smoking, stop being negative, stop interrupting people. Avoidance goals are impossible to reach, because at what point have you successfully stopped being negative, for example? When you go one day without a negative comment? What if something negative creeps in the next day? Therefore, it is much easier to approach new and positive behaviors: make 3 positive comments each day. That’s a behavior a that is easy to accomplish, and we can celebrate it when we do.
As the Christmas holiday approaches, Christians worldwide prepare to wrap up the season of Advent. Advent is the (roughly) 4 week period immediately preceding Christmas. In the Christian tradition, it is a period of waiting and preparation for the appearance of the Christ child.
The focus of the Advent season contains some principles that are helpful for leader development.
When I hear the word “waiting”, the first thing that comes to my mind are dentist offices, check-out lines, and stop lights. They are times of passivity. They are minutes we need to kill until life resumes and we get to the good stuff.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, times of waiting are anything but passive. Instead, waiting is marked by anticipation. By preparation. By practice. By focus. By rehearsing the time when event will once again be in motion.
Sometimes as leaders, we feel that we are passively waiting. Waiting for the next promotion. Waiting to finish school. Waiting for a new venture to bear fruit. These times can seem never-ending and sometimes even pointless.
But what if we were to use these times to prepare? To practice the fundamentals? To lay the groundwork to learn new skills?
There will always be tension between our current reality and our hoped-for future, even leaders. But if we take an Advent approach, we just might find that the time of waiting an preparing is every bit as essential as the time of doing.
The Leadership Professors wish you the very best this holiday season!