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Posted by on Feb 11, 2015

How Leaders Can Bridge the Gap Between Where They Are Now and Where They Want to Be – It’s All in the Mind

In a previous post I presented a basic approach to goal setting that could be used to help leaders acquire new skills as they set goals to make the required behavior changes necessary to close the gap between where they currently are and where they want to be in their careers. The steps to closing the gap include several elements that should be considered when setting behavior-change goals.

Goal setting for closing any skill gap is a process. The same process can be applied to any goal, whether professional, organizational, or personal. The basic steps are the same; however, the amount of time, rigor, and level of detail is dependent upon the gap to be closed and the reason for the gap. Writing down the goal and a set of action steps is easy. The challenge is getting down to the underlying motivation for the change and honestly thinking through the change elements. Throughout the change process not only do you need to know what you want to accomplish, but also clearly understand why you need to do it and all of the factors that influence how you do it.

Dr. David C. McClelland, in his book Human Motivation addresses the importance of motives on goal setting. He discusses that throughout the behavior-change process everyone has thoughts, feelings, and expectations that they think about and influence the goal accomplishment success or failure. Let’s take a look at each of these elements along with a professional and organizational example.

The Problem to be Solved – What is the gap you want to close?

  • Professional – I can’t get promoted without a formal credential
  • Organizational – Customer satisfaction surveys indicate that our project results are below acceptable standards

The Goal – What do you need to do to solve the problem?

  • Professional – Get a professional certification and qualify for a promotion within the next 12 months
  • Organizational – Increase customer satisfaction results by 60% by the next internal metrics audit

Once the problem and goal have been defined, then the “mind games” begin, during which time you think about all the factors to accomplish your goal. These thoughts are not just a one-time event to help you get to an action plan, they actually occur throughout the goal-setting process.

Underlying Need – How important is the need and how deeply do you want to attain it?

  • Professional – I want to advance my career, work on more challenging projects, and provide more financial stability for my family
  • Organizational – It is important to our reputation and on-going success to deliver the highest quality deliverables and customer support to our stakeholders

Positive Expectations – Successful leaders set realistic goals and are confident they can achieve them

  • Professional – I have a broad range of knowledge and skills and a lot of experience so I know I can do this
  • Organizational – With the support I’ve been promised from management and the talented team I have, I know we can reach the 60%

Realistic Expectations – Because goals should also be challenging, successful leaders also know that everything will not go as planned. This makes them work harder and plan more to reduce the chances of failure.

  • Professional – I know that with recent organization changes, promotion opportunities are limited
  • Organizational – We may be underestimating the amount of time and money it will take to overcome some of the external customer issues

Based on your overall expectations about your ability to accomplish your goal, you need to develop a logical plan and set of actions to accomplish it

Action Steps – What are the things that need to be done to be successful?

  • Professional – I have to make sure that all of my skills are thoroughly documented and that I work to get the required certifications for the position I want
  • Organizational – I have to do a comprehensive analysis of our internal and external customer satisfaction metrics, identify the gaps, and put in place an initial process improvement approach. I also need to conduct an internal self-audit before the next formal internal audit.

Once you start executing your action plan, it is important to realize that there are times when you will feel good and about your progress and disappointed.

Positive Feelings –Feelings created when you have made progress toward your goal, such as pride and satisfaction. These help to motivate you to continue toward your goal.

  • Professional – I feel really good that my manager gave me some encouragement and gave me a list of certifications that are considered valuable within the organization
  • Organizational – I was really pleased when I realized that the customer satisfaction issues were limited to a couple of areas that will enable us to focus our attention.

Negative feelings – Feelings created when progress toward your goal does not go as expected or there is failure, such as frustration or discouragement. While these may be somewhat demotivating, they can cause you to focus on how to do better.

  • Professional – I was discouraged to hear that human resources is advertising for external candidates which may further limit opportunities
  • Organizational – I was frustrated to discover some of the managers were not as supportive of our process improvements as I had hoped they would be.

External Barriers – What could prevent you from being successful that is outside of your control?

  • Professional – My current project load and family commitments make it difficult to take training courses and study for the certification exam
  • Organizational – The managers are not willing to commit resources and change their own process to improve project delivery.

Internal Barriers – Personal shortcomings and limitations that hinder your ability to succeed, such as   not having enough knowledge, the right skills, or enough self-confidence.

  • Professional – I have always had the fear of trying something outside of my comfort zone, and I am not very good at taking standardized tests
  • Organizational – I have a tendency to push my team too hard and expect more than they can deliver when they also have other projects on which they are working.

Help – Identify and actively seek out sources of help to overcome obstacles preventing you from accomplishing your goal. These obstacles may be internal or external. However, remember that you must retain ownership of the goal and the action plan.

  • Professional – I can ask my supervisor for opportunities to broaden my skills and I can ask the training manager to recommend some self-study courses.
  • Organizational – I think I can get my director to stress the importance of this initiative and get the other managers to support the effort.

Setting and accomplishing change goals can be challenging for a variety of reasons.  By critically thinking about your professional, organizational, and personal goals and the process to accomplish them, you are more likely to be successful.

As a leader, you are motived by something – accomplishing something, influencing others, or working with friends and peers. What motivates you, causes you to think about what you really need, why you need it, and how to get it? These thoughts also include your feelings about success and failure as well as barriers and how to overcome them.

What motivates you and what are you doing to be the leader you want to be?

Adapted from Lowell Dye’s presentation and paper “Goal Setting and Achievement Thinking” at the PMI Global Congress – North America, 2010.


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