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Annie Hayes

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Opinion: Goals that hit target

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Neil McCracken of Motiva Corporate Development argues that when it comes to setting inspiring team goals, the trick lies close to home.


A critical aspect of the manager’s role is to set goals in such a manner that they inspire and engage others, increase performance and provide a motivation for individuals to excel.

In professional organisations this is a core expectation of managers. Most competence frameworks for managers allude to this directly since intrinsically we ‘know’ it is a powerful way to grow beyond what and who we are.

Why is it then that so often in organisations many comments typically centre around the type “Why is it such a challenge to get managers to set effective goals?” Or perhaps “Why are my managers struggling to set effective goals?” Or even “My managers just are not setting goals well.”

From the perspective of the development of HR functions it can almost feel as though leaders avoid setting and monitoring goals despite having lots of support and encouragement to do so. Perhaps we need more consideration in respect of this performance gap to see how we might close it.

Empathy
One of these considerations might look at empathy in leadership and its role in goal setting. If you have ever asked a manager to list the ten personal skills they require to be outstanding, or even great, they almost invariably include this ‘empathy’ word.

If you have ever asked team members what they require from the leader in order to be motivated by them as a person it is surprising if the expectation of empathy is not prominent in some form.

Given it appears to be important in individual minds a dictionary definition might help us expand our thoughts and then decide how it relates a leader’s goal setting ability. Typically it is described as: A sense of shared experience, a state of total identification with another’s feelings or understanding for another’s situation or feelings.

Extend these words to a common sense interpretation for goal setting and it might say: “If you are to truly empathise when using goals to lead then it’s better if you have done it, are doing it and you truly know what it feels like.”

Common sense
When we apply this ‘common sense’ thinking to ask questions of leaders we will get some interesting anecdotal information, some food for thought at the very least.

So if you were to ask any number of managers, at any level, to write down three personal development goals, how many would struggle? For 80% it would be a first experience.

When asked how many would have never proactively written down personal goals until that point in time we might typically find one in 10 who has ever decided on and written down a personal development goal. Fewer still do this as any form of regular habit.

If we were to ask how many had ever formally reviewed and held themselves accountable against a personal goal how many would answer yes? We might find one in 50.

How many would consider even the first task emotionally perplexing (as opposed to exciting)?

Challenge
So is it true that the majority of leaders don’t really know what it is like to set goals and achieve them in a meaningful way? That the majority of leaders would struggle to develop a personal development goal for even themselves?

That it would be challenging to word their personal goal powerfully? That they would lack personal commitment to follow up on their own goals?

If that is so their empathy when leading exactly the same process in others is likely to be strained and challenged. Perhaps, just perhaps, if a leader uses the skills of personal goal setting regularly then the increased empathy they build might also allow them to engage, inspire and motivate others to use goals and use them well.

As the adage goes: “If you want to change the world start with yourself.”

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Annie Hayes

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Read more from Annie Hayes
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