Goal or Ghoul? The Key to Your Action Plan

Happy Halloween! It’s a great day to talk about a scary topic: setting professional development goals for yourself or for those you lead. I thought it might be helpful to write about how I coach my clients to set their own professional development goals.

Executive coaching uses a process, begining with action planning.A written action plan becomes a reference document that is used as the foundation for the professional development work with a client, and is used to obtain the sponsor`s (mentor or manager) approval for moving forward in the coaching engagement.

The first step in creating an action plan is to decide on the professional goals for the work my client and I will partner on. While I might think that the process of setting goals and creating a written action plan is frighteningly simple, I know it can be difficult when the goals are “about you”. Goal setting can be so personal for my clients that it becomes ghoulish without a way to narrow down and focus on what’s important for them and their organization.

Gathering information and feedback first

Many leaders have feedback in written form, often from 360`s. Others may have been given some oral feedback and/or may also have taken some self-assessments such as DiSC or MBTI (these assessments aren’t exactly “feedback” but can be helpful in goal setting). Where feedback is scant, I may assist by conducting feedback interviews or administering the 360 assessment I’m certified for. Trust me, even the best leaders aren`t perfect, and there is always something that stands out for them in the feedack they receive that they are fervent about working on.

Deciding on the goal(s)

All of the feedback, from all sources, can be consolidated in some way by using some of the following questions as guidelines:

  • What stands out for you in this feedback?
  • What surprises you?
  • What comes through as your strengths or challenges in this feedback?
  • What do you agree or disagree with in the feedback?
  • What are you most passionate about working on?

Once narrowed down in this way, the focus begins to become clear. It may not happen immediately ?€“ some of us just need time to reflect.

Leaders who are driven to improve want to set LOTS of goals and achieve them in a relatively short time. Generally this is not a good strategy. Those many goals become ghouls (dictionary definition: an evil demon that feeds on human beings) that can get overwhelm and eat you alive. I suggest one or maybe two big goals at a time. This makes the work focused and achievable. Choosing one BIG STRETCH GOAL (or maybe two) at a time that gets you excited and captures your interest, and you are on your way toward creating an action plan that will get results.

Some examples of goals

Because someone will always ask for examples of goals, here are some from my client`s action plans (note: while some of these may not seem like “stretch goals” to some of you, they were for my clients. Many variables determine the “stretchiness” of a goal for a particular individual. These variables include the client`s pace and personality, the organizational culture, and their manager`s goals for them):

  • Learn and demonstrate leadership styles appropriate to particular situations and individuals
  • Develop and clearly communicate strategies for the organization
  • Communicate in a clear, concise, logical manner
  • Collaborate effectively across organizational boundaries
  • Increase knowledge and understanding of our customer base
  • Formulate and communicate a personal leadership vision
  • Recognizing and utilizing the strengths of team members
  • Build an effective team and organization
  • Learn productive ways to deal with conflict
  • Develop a polished leadership presence
  • Lead a culture change in the organization to one that is motivated, engaged, and results oriented
  • Play a more significant role on the leadership team and be seen as the “go-to” person for knowledge in my area of expertise
  • Create and encourage greater efficiency and a sense of urgency in the organization

Next: Action Planning: creating action steps for your goals.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

9 comments on “Goal or Ghoul? The Key to Your Action Plan

  1. Mary Jo,

    This is an outstanding post with really great information that I will incorporate into my coaching.

    The coaching I’ve done recently was in a setting where no organized feedback existed and sensitivities around the position made gathering any feedback very difficult. In fact, the coaching was conducted somewhat “under the radar”.

    Your blog is no-nonsense and practical and this particular post is particularly so. I look forward to the one on action planning.

  2. Bob, Thanks so much for your encouragement.

    I’m curious how you determined the focus of the coaching? Could it be that since it was done under the radar, it was something that was pre-determined?

  3. This person felt the need for coaching, gave me a personal assessment of reality, and I helped the manager determine the specific goal for improvement, in this case primarily improved communication with staff.

    Previous events that were explained to me made the assessment and goal determination ring true even though I was hearing from one perspective. I guess what might have been pre-determined was the need. The focus wasn’t as visible, but didn’t seem too hard to glean.

    I could explain more about the “under the radar” nature of the coaching, but not in this venue.

    Thanks for asking.

  4. Thanks for stopping back, Bob and providing your additional perspective. It sure sounds like your intuition on the goal, and the “ring true” part were spot on.

  5. Wow, this is great! I couldn’t have paid for information this valuable! I am new to coaching, and have had difficulties getting started. This really helps. Thank you so much for sharing. Some others I have asked will not give information so freely. True leaders want others to be successful.


  6. Mary Jo –
    This is great information! Thanks for sharing it. I like the actual examples you`ve shared too, it helps make the process real. I look forward to reading about the next step.

  7. Thanks Dan! Glad you liked the examples. I always get asked, “What kinds of things do your clients work on?”. There you go.

  8. I read that the most important thing to keep telling yourself is that you “want” to reach your goal or do that work you have been putting off for awhile, as opposed to telling yourself you “need” to do it. Positive thinking makes all the difference.

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