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Succession Planning

5 Examples of Leadership SMART Goals to Improve Leadership Capability


Leaders coach, guide, and motivate teams through challenges and career progression. But, like anyone else, leaders need to set clear and actionable goals to achieve this.

This is where SMART goals come into play. They’re more than just objectives—they’re a process. In this article, we’ll get into what SMART goals are, and break down six SMART goal examples to understand what it is that makes them SMART.

What are leadership SMART goals?

Leadership SMART goals are the specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals that a leader can use to provide a structured approach to success. While all goals—SMART or not—give a sense of direction and desired outcomes, SMART goals are more prescriptive in outlining how achieving a desired objective can be achieved.

The importance of setting leadership SMART goals 

A successful leader is on top of how their team drives value in meeting the company’s priorities. So, any team or leadership priorities are derived from organisational strategy, and goals are created from there as a “to-do” to meet those priorities. In this way, SMART goals are related and aligned to business strategy, but aren’t as high-level as strategic priorities themselves.

Remember that the R in SMART stands for relevance. It’s easy for standard goals to be vague, with little thought put into how they serve the big picture. A SMART goal, on the other hand, forces leaders to think about why a goal needs to be set, and how their leadership efforts align with the critical aspects of the organisation. It means leaders are able to focus on the goals and areas that have the greatest business impact, driving business success and the development of their own capabilities.

They also ensure that leaders have more clarity and focus on their leadership journey. The clarity comes from SMART goals being well-defined (S stands for specific!), while the focus is derived from the step-by-step structure the rest of the acronym provides. This means leaders (and team members) also have a clear guide to measure and track their progress as they go. In other words: They know what they’re doing, they know how to do it, and they know how they are going.

Plus, having a structure to follow helps leaders keep themselves and their teams accountable. T is for time-bound, meaning SMART goals are on a deadline. When you have a structure to tell you what needs to be done, leaders can use that to prioritise actions to complete the goal.

The components of leadership SMART goals

We’ve talked about them already, albeit briefly, so let’s get into more detail. Leadership SMART goals stand for:

How to implement leadership SMART goals

You know what SMART goals stand for, but how do you go about setting and implementing leadership SMART goals? It’s a pretty simple, straightforward, step-by-step process.

1. Start by defining specific objectives

This means choosing your key focus area (such as improving key leadership skills, opportunities, priorities, and roles) that you want to focus on. Your objectives need to be well-defined and unambiguous to create a truly achievable goal.

2. Establish metrics

A measurable goal should have defined metrics and indicators that you can use to track your progress. If the activities in your action plan include attending a formal course or workshop, your indicators would include completing the course as well as evidence of learning transfer (which peers and supervisors can assess). If your goal was to improve your coaching or mentoring skills, then measuring the transfer of learning and performance of employees will be your key indicator, on top of the feedback received from the employee themselves.

Remember that a measurable action isn’t a vague statement of success—just like specific objectives, you need to be clear about what quantifiable measure you’re using.

3. Evaluate how feasible your goal is

In this step you need to consider your company’s constraints in terms of available resources and capabilities. You also need to consider how ambitious your goals are for the timeframe provided. Too easy and you’ll lack the motivation to complete them; too hard and you’ll be frustrated that they can’t be achieved.

Take a 30-60-90 day plan, for example. When you start in a new position, you’re not going to know everything at once. In fact, immediately throwing all the resources and information at a new hire is more detrimental than beneficial, because you risk overwhelming and overloading them with too much. So, a 30-60-90 day plan helps to set expectations, provide resources and information, and give business context.

4. Create an action plan aligned to business priorities

Assess how your leadership SMART goals contribute to overall business success, and how they will address the relevant needs and aspirations of your business. (This part can be difficult to pin down, so it’s important to collaborate with relevant stakeholders here.) Look to breaking a SMART goal down into smaller increments, so they become a step-by-step outline of what you need to do to achieve your goals.

There are four steps to creating an action plan:

  1. Identify your purpose. It’s helpful to have a clear strategic plan already, to ensure you understand your leadership roles and how it factors into the organisation’s mission and values.
  2. Collaborate with stakeholders. This could include team members, a business leader, manager, or even a leadership mentor. Stakeholders can give input and feedback on SMART goals in terms of how your goal fits in with the company’s expectations and needs, and prevent you from creating conflicting or unclear goals for organisational strategy.
  3. Break down goals. As in, break them into smaller and more specific sub-goals to make them more manageable. It helps with motivation when a task that seems too complex is broken down into individual tasks that you can check off. This way, you can create a clear action plan to follow.
  4. Review and adjust your goals. SMART goals will change and evolve over time as you achieve them and new internal and external factors affect overall business goals. Maybe there are new changes, challenges, or processes in the market or industry that leaders need to adapt to. By reviewing your SMART goals, you can ensure that they’re still aligned with organisational objectives.

At this point, it’s also important to set deadlines. SMART goals need to be completed in a timely manner, so breaking your goal down into smaller, manageable tasks can help you with your time estimations. This way, you can set shorter deadlines for the smaller tasks that will help you along the way to completing the overarching goal.

5. Monitor and review progress

Don’t wait until after you’ve implemented and completed your action plans to begin monitoring and reviewing your goal-setting and development. The most efficient action you can take is instead monitoring your progress as you go, by tracking your key metrics, indicators and milestones. This way, you can get feedback and see if there are any issues or inefficiencies in your action plan as you go, and can adjust accordingly in real time.

Of course, leadership goals aren’t set-and-forget tasks to be completed once and never thought of again. You need to adapt and evolve your goals based on lessons learned to fit with your own professional growth as well as the company’s performance and goals, enabling continuous improvement in leadership and the business.

That’s why here at Acorn, we’ve developed the first performance learning management system (PLMS) to help bridge the gap between learning and performance. A PLMS ensures that the capabilities that enable the workforce to meet organisational objectives are aligned with business goals and strategy, thus improving business performance.

5 leadership SMART goals examples 

Leadership goals don’t have to be super high-level in terms of business strategy. In simple terms, SMART leadership goals drive individual leaders’ personal development, which pushes the business towards its objectives.

So, let’s look at 6 leadership SMART goals examples and break down what it is that makes them SMART, rather than just goals.

Improve coaching skills

Not only is being a good coach and mentor a crucial leadership skill, but it also improves your team members’ capabilities. When leaders are good coaches, employees feel both supported and more confident in their role, boosting employee morale, job satisfaction, and productivity.

So, as a SMART goal, it might like this:

Improve coaching skills within six months, by scheduling training sessions and meetings to support employees in building their expertise in areas that need development.

S – The specific goal is to improve your coaching abilities.

M – Increased productivity and decreased time-to-proficiency is the measurable action.

A – Scheduling meetings and training with employees to work with them on their development areas is achievable.

R – Better coaching leads to more confidence employees and increased employee performance.

T – The goal’s deadline is in six months.

Taking constructive feedback

Giving constructive feedback is already a challenge in itself, but learning to take constructive criticism is difficult too. As a leader, it’s your job to provide feedback to your team members to help them in their personal development and performance. But it’s also important for leaders to receive constructive criticism to improve their leadership skills.

As a SMART goal, it might look like:

Learn to effectively take constructive criticism within the next six months by seeking regular feedback from employees and showing that you take feedback on board.

S – The specific goal is to learn to take constructive feedback without getting defensive.

M – The measurable action is changing leadership behaviours in line with feedback received.

A – The goal can be achieved by listening to and seeking regular feedback from employees.

R – Positively taking and implementing feedback improves your abilities as a leader, which has a flow-on effect to the employees and team members you work with.

T – The goal’s deadline is in six months.

Practice active listening

It might seem small, but active listening skills are a crucial leadership skill, allowing leaders to better understand the capabilities of their team members. Not only do leaders need to be in-the-know when it comes to office goings-on, but they also need to understand what factors—personal or professional—may be impacting employees, the team’s productivity, and the business overall.

Written as a SMART goal, it could be:

Improve active listening by scheduling regular team meetings and weekly one-on-ones to spend time catching up on employees’ concerns, as well as asking for feedback on improvements to your active listening skills, aiming for a satisfaction rate of 85%.

S – The specific goal is to improve active listening.

M – The measurable action is receiving positive feedback with an 85% satisfaction rate.

A – This goal can be achieved through continued practice and the collection of feedback in regular, weekly meetings.

R – Improved active listening allows leaders to make better decisions for their team to increase performance and productivity.

T – The goal is ongoing, but feedback is taken and implemented weekly.

Become more adaptable to change

Forward-thinking is essential for all aspects of the business, and leaders are no exception. Adaptable leaders are better able to anticipate and navigate challenges, and create innovative solutions for them, continuously improving their capabilities to enact organisational transformation.

As a SMART goal, it could look like:

Become more adaptable to change by attending a course to learn how to analyse emerging trends, navigate challenges, and create solutions over the next six months.

S – The specific goal is to become more adaptable to change.

M – The measurable action is completing a course in adaptability.

A – Completing the course and practicing the strategies and techniques learned are achievable actions.

R – Being more adaptable creates an agile workplace that is prepared for future change and can maintain a competitive advantage.

T – The goal’s deadline is in six months.

Improve presentation skills

As leaders need to communicate strategy to their teams, being able to present effectively to them is essential for creating team cohesion and efficiency. In turn, this increases employee productivity and enhances business performance.

As a SMART goal, it might be written as:

Improve presentation skills by developing meeting agendas to more effectively deliver information and cut down on meeting times by half an hour in the next two months.

S – The specific goal is to improve presentation skills.

M – The measurable action is cutting down meeting times by 30 minutes.

A – Creating meeting agendas forces leaders to be more efficient with their words and time, making this goal achievable.

R – Better presentation and communication skills gives employees clearer direction and more time to be productive.

T – The goal’s deadline is in two months.

The impacts of not setting SMART leadership goals

While there are some instances where setting goals might be unnecessary (if you’re just looking to challenge yourself without the pressure of delivering results, for instance), in general, not setting leadership SMART goals for yourself can negatively impact your leadership capability, which in turn affects the success of both your team and company.

Specifically, a lack of SMART goal setting can lead to:

Key takeaways

Building and implementing SMART goals doesn’t have to be hard. It’s a simple process of breaking down what it is that makes your goal specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. Just remember your seven-step process in SMART goal implementation.

  1. Define specific objectives
  2. Establish metrics
  3. Evaluate feasibility
  4. Create an action plan aligning with business priorities
  5. Monitor, review, and evolve.

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