Leadership development doesn’t just spontaneously occur. It’s a process of continuous improvement in the aspects and skills that enable individual leaders to work efficiently in their roles.
In this article, we’ll delve into setting leadership development goals for your personal development, as well as some examples of goals that can improve your skills as a leader.
What are leadership goals?
Leadership goals are the objectives leaders set themselves to improve their leadership skills, knowledge and capabilities. Leadership goals should be relevant to professional and personal development to be effective, and can be both short-term and long-term. The idea is to use goals to set development plans for your path forward as a leader.
The importance of goal setting for leaders
You can’t expect to do well as a leader without setting any goals for yourself and your professional growth. (After all, effective leadership requires a certain degree of self-awareness.) In other words, goal setting is the crucial ingredient for leadership development.
Let’s be real: Goals are what give you the focus and direction to actually make steps towards improvement. Without them, you can get lost in the weeds of unrealised potential and a lack of motivation. This is especially true of goals that are linked to business priorities. When employees (and in this case, leaders) can see how their goal fits into the big picture, they’re more likely to be motivated to complete it. Clearly defined goals are a ready-made development roadmap for you to follow, aligning your personal and professional objectives and creating a sense of accountability.
Plus, when you know where the goalposts are, it’s easier to commit to and engage with the necessary activities to meet your goals. Ergo, goal setting:
- Instils a sense of purpose for leaders, making them more likely to commit to development activities.
- Enhances decision-making, as leaders can prioritise where to invest time and energy.
- Supports ongoing learning and development of leaders to drive continuous improvement and increase performance and leadership effectiveness.
- Creates a benchmark for leaders to measure their progress with.
- Enables alignment between individual leaders’ personal development and organisational objectives.
4 methods for leadership goal setting
While it’s true that the common denominator in setting and achieving goals is commitment and willpower, there’s actually no singular way to set leadership development goals. It’s just a matter of choosing the right goal-setting method to enhance your motivation to work towards your objectives.
Whichever process you use, you should make sure you measure how your leadership performance has improved since setting (and meeting) your goals. A performance learning management system (PLMS) can help you here, linking learning and development to organisational performance.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. It’s a goal-setting method that ensures your objectives align with your own personal development targets, as well as organisational strategy. SMART components are designed to build on each other to create a well-formed goal.
- Specific. Goals are clear, unambiguous, and well-defined.
- Measurable. Goals are quantifiable, with established criteria and metrics to track and measure progress.
- Achievable: Goals are realistic and attainable based on the resources, capabilities, and other constraints (such as time or budget) that are available in the organisation.
- Relevant: Goals are aligned with organisational objectives and individual growth needs.
- Time-bound: Goals have a specific deadline for completion to ensure leaders are motivated to complete them.
The idea is to create goals that you can clearly map to each category and use it as the basis for an action plan forward. But you need to remember to monitor and review your goals as you go (remember: Goals are measurable) to make sure you’re on track and still aligned with company priorities.
Like SMART goals, PACT goals provide a structured approach to goal-setting. The main difference between the two methods is that PACT goals are more concerned with output, while SMART goals have a focus on outcome.
PACT stands for:
- Purposeful. This is where you identify the underlying reason or motivation for the goal. Importantly, the goal should be meaningful in the long-term rather than in the present. In other words, it should align with your values, aspirations, and personal objectives (as well as be relevant to company goals).
- Actionable. The goal should be feasible for you to achieve, with clear steps to follow in order to complete it. In short, it should be based on the actions you have control over, rather than distant outcomes.
- Continuous. As we said, PACT goals are about output over outcome. So instead of stopping once your desired objective is reached, PACT goals are about continuing to improve on the goal to develop new habits and behaviours leading to organisational transformation.
- Trackable. This is where you keep yourself motivated and accountable, by monitoring and reviewing progress towards your goals. When things aren’t working as well as expected, you can adjust your methodology to improve it for the future.
WOOP goals are about using positive thinking to help leaders define, set and achieve their goals. Where SMART goals look towards the measurable and achievable actions of a goal, WOOP goals instead look at the potential internal and external obstacles that may prevent you from achieving your objectives.
- Wish. Your “wish” is a meaningful goal that is relevant to you personally and professionally. It should be realistic and attainable while also being challenging. For the best chance at success, this goal needs to be something important to you. This way, you’ll be more motivated to see it through.
- Outcome. This is where you visualise the best possible outcome of achieving your goal in terms of the positive impacts it will have on your personal growth. This is the step where the “positive mindset” comes into play to help with motivation to achieve the goal.
- Obstacle. Identify the barriers that might prevent you from achieving your goals. These could be internal or external barriers, like self-doubt, lack of resources, or time constraints.
- Plan. Develop a plan to overcome your identified obstacles. This should involve developing specific strategies and actions to address the identified barriers.
The Eisenhower matrix is a tool used for time management and goal setting to categorise tasks based on how important and urgent they are in order to prioritise which goals and tasks need to be worked on first.
It works by arranging tasks according to urgency on one axis, and importance on the other. So:
- Urgent and important tasks are those that need to be, well, urgently completed and are also important to complete. Tasks in this category will have consequences if not completed on time, such as responding to emergencies, meeting deadlines, and responding to top-priority emails.
- Important but not urgent tasks are important to complete, but don’t need to be done as soon as possible, and so can be scheduled for later. Tasks in this quadrant need more planning and preparation before they can be completed, such as personal development and relationship building.
- Urgent but not important tasks need to be urgently done but aren’t important, so they can usually be delegated to other people. Generally, these types of tasks don’t contribute to long-term goals, and can include handling minor interruptions and attending meetings.
- Not urgent and not important tasks are more distraction than anything, and should either be removed or minimised as much as possible. They don’t contribute to long-term objectives, so they could be considered time-wasting activities, like browsing social media or packing the office dishwasher.
When it comes to setting goals with the Eisenhower matrix, you need to identify the tasks to be done as part of your goal and categorise them in the matrix. This way, you can create a detailed plan of which tasks to prioritise first on the path to achieving your goals.
Throughout the process you need to review and re-adjust your priorities where necessary, in case some tasks turn out to be more important or urgent than originally thought.
5 examples of goals to improve leadership skills
Defining, setting, and acting on goals can be difficult to get started on, so we’ve put together a list of five leadership goal examples and the potential actions you can take to achieve them.
Build emotional intelligence
Good leaders are emotionally intelligent, allowing them to work more effectively with others as well as have self-awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses as a leader. It enables better conflict resolution, better decision-making, and builds empathy and relationships which is more likely to improve employee engagement and job satisfaction.
If your objective is to build emotional intelligence, your tasks might include:
- Taking part in formal emotional intelligence training, which can equip you with the techniques and processes to improve.
- Taking time to self-reflect on your emotions and how they affect your behaviour and thought processes. This way, you know what to work on into the future.
- Seek feedback from others. While self-awareness is important, outside perspectives can be more objective about your potential blind spots.
Work on delegating tasks
While you may be a leader, it’s not up to you to do everything on your own. In fact, delegating tasks to members of your team is an important skill for leaders to master–It’s just good resource management.
When you delegate tasks, you stop yourself from burning out by stretching beyond capacity, but you also ensure that tasks end up in the hands of the people most capable of completing them. This way, tasks are completed more efficiently and effectively, and you as a leader can focus on the high-level tasks that no one else is equipped to do.
So, if your objective is to become more comfortable delegating tasks to team members, you should:
- Identify tasks that can be delegated—the Eisenhower matrix can be a helpful tool here.
- Allow room for mistakes. Remember that the employee you’re delegating to is using this an opportunity for professional development, and giving them a chance to learn will make the process more comfortable for both of you in the long run.
- Provide feedback after the fact, so that employees can learn from the experience and improve. As they become more capable, you’ll be more comfortable to let them do it without much hand-holding.
Practice active listening
It may be a small part of communication skills, but active listening skills are important to develop as leadership goals in their own right. An effective leader is one who knows what the mood, energy and thought processes are around the office. We’re talking about understanding the concerns held by members of your staff, here.
But a leader can’t know this unless they’re an active listener who takes time to hear what people are saying. If a leader isn’t good at active listening, employees may not feel it’s safe to voice any concerns or feedback, fostering resentment and an unhealthy workplace environment. On the other hand, leaders who maintain open communication with their teams will be better equipped to address issues affecting staff, especially when employees feel comfortable providing upward feedback.
As an example, a leader might set a goal to improve their active listening skills. Their tasks to achieve that goal might be:
- Scheduling weekly one-on-ones with employees who report to them. In these meetings you should be seeking feedback, concerns, and constructive criticism to take on board and address.
- Taking time to reflect and paraphrase what the speaker has said, to ensure that you understood them correctly.
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage the speaker to continue to share. It allows you to get a deeper understanding of the topic at hand, and gain more insights from employees’ perspectives.
Improve how you give and take constructive criticism
Giving constructive feedback is an essential leadership skill, but so is how you take it. Your team members want to feel like you’re supporting them and have their best interests in mind. But they also want to feel that you value their opinions and input in your performance.
The key to taking constructive criticism positively is self-reflection. This way, you’ll be able to take the time to work towards addressing any issues raised, rather than coming up against internal (defensive) roadblocks.
If your goal is to improve how you take and give criticism, you might:
- Practice reflecting on the feedback received rather than getting defensive. This means not responding immediately, but taking time to fully comprehend the feedback you’ve been given.
- Make giving feedback a collaborative experience between yourself and the specific team member to understand their perspective.
- Actively ask for feedback from peers and team members, rather than waiting for someone to come to you.
Improve mentoring skills
At some point as a leader, you’ll need to mentor team members. But if you’re not effective at mentoring, you’ll just be hindering yourself and your employees in their career goals and growth. Effective mentorship can completely turn that around, making employees more engaged, productive, and reducing the time it takes them to become efficient in their roles.
If your objective is to be a more effective mentor, the tasks to achieve that might be:
- Create open communication, or a continuous feedback loop. This way, while you’re mentoring employees, they’re also giving you feedback on how well you’re doing as a mentor.
- Take part in mentoring training to learn more about how to work as a mentor. This way you can learn a variety of different techniques and strategies which you can apply in your day-to-day work.
- Create a plan of expectations and goals for your mentee, so that you’re both on the same page. This gives your mentee an idea of where they should be by the end of your mentorship, and gives you an outline with which to track your progress.
Your capability as a leader is dynamic and constantly evolving to account for the diverse people and projects you’ll be working with. But you need to set to goals to ensure your leadership skills are continuously improving in order to keep up with the evolving environment.
There are several methods to help define, set, and achieve leadership goals:
- SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound
- PACT goals, which are purposeful, actionable, continuous, and trackable
- The WOOP method, where you define you wish, outcomes, obstacles, and plan
- The Eisenhower matrix, where you determine your priority tasks based on urgency and importance.
Employing the best leadership goal setting method depends on who you are as a leader. With the right one, you’ll be more likely to achieve your leadership objectives and drive business success.
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