Setting goals that boost your leadership impact

The practice of setting and reviewing your goals is as essential to your leadership journey as it is to your personal growth.

Goals can help you clarify your priorities, thereby empowering you to make conscious choices about where to spend your time and energy. Your journey towards achieving your goals can also challenge your thinking around what is possible and invite you to embrace significant changes in your leadership approach, if your current path doesn’t align with your new trajectory.

The right goals help you boost your leadership impact as you learn and grow.

As leaders, we’re often focused on business goals and results—the WHAT goals—which are unsurprisingly top of mind. These goals are focused on delivering successful business outcomes and results for your organization, and they’re the first thing we think of when we talk about leadership goals.

But what about other kinds of leadership goals? The goals that speak to the more fundamental dimensions of who you are and how you lead, rather than what you can achieve for your organization.

Ask yourself:

  • How do you interact with those you lead?
  • What qualities do you bring to those interactions?
  • How do others respond?
  • What do you want your team members to say about you when you’re not in the room?

When you uncover changes you want to make to your leadership journey and set new goals because of these questions, you’re focused on your personal leadership efforts. These are the goals that make a real difference in your impact as a leader.

I call these the HOW goals and liken them to the wake left behind by a powerful ship moving through the water. Your HOW goals are the ones that will align you with the lasting impact you make on your team, your organization, and yourself.

Wondering how to focus on the HOW goals? Here are three options to consider:

Step 1: Start with yourself – What’s working well in your leadership right now?

As humans, we often end up focusing on what we feel we should be fixing or solving. While this has its advantages, we can sometimes overlook the ways in which we already lead that serve us well.

Perhaps you’re known for your listening qualities? Actively inviting questions, concerns, diverse points of view, and constructive feedback.

Or, are you recognized for your commitment to developing those you lead?

Identifying your existing strengths as a leader provides you with a foundation to build up your effectiveness. When choosing your leadership HOW goals, is there one quality or behavior you want to do more of to strengthen a skill at which you’re already excelling? Thereby deepening your impact as a leader?

Step 2: Consider the best – What qualities might you want to do more of?

Annual surveys of top-rated leadership qualities and behaviours are a reliable source of information and inspiration in setting your leadership HOW goals. Gallop’s latest global assessment of the most essential behaviours for leadership performance found a strong correlation between these seven qualities and behaviours and that of effective leadership:

  • Build relationships
  • Develop others
  • Lead change
  • Inspire others
  • Think critically
  • Communicate clearly
  • Create accountability

How might you rate yourself on each of these dimensions?

As you zero in on the areas in which you’re already strong, ask yourself how you might use these strengths to even greater impact. Are there ways in which you can deploy those strengths to help you offset areas you’re still developing as a leader?

For example, if you’re already known for your relationship-building qualities, how can you use this skill to strengthen your ability to inspire or communicate clearly? What’s a relevant goal you now want to set for yourself?

Step 3: Ask for feedback – What can those who know you best help you appreciate?

Feedback from others is the best way to gain access to an external, unbiased opinion about your leadership effectiveness. More importantly, it will highlight the impact you have on those around you—your ‘wake’ from our boat analogy.

Whether you do this formally or informally, you will gain a more complete picture of HOW you’re leading, helping you to refine your goal setting.

A few options you can choose:

  • Ask close colleagues for feedback, or work with a buddy, mentor or coach who will give you impartial feedback. A great option when you want to gain a better sense of the impact you may be having on others or when you are working on a specific area of your leadership.
  • Use assessment tools to deepen your awareness of how you typically behave. For example, in better appreciating your leadership communication style or your emotional intelligence.
  • For a truly comprehensive look, you’ll want to consider a 360-feedback process that invites colleagues who know you and the ways you work to provide confidential, anonymous feedback. Here again, there are lots of options to choose from. I use the Leadership Circle Profile in supporting the leaders with whom I work; you can learn more about this powerful methodology here.

Setting goals around your personal leadership growth will help you focus on what matters most on your journey. By focusing on the three steps I’ve highlighted, you will be able to start defining your HOW goals—the goals that help you make positive waves within your team and organization.

All three approaches are concrete methods of appreciating the impact you’re already having, as you consider the next evolution in your ongoing performance as a leader.

Once you’ve set your HOW goals, there are two questions you should make a habit of asking yourself from time to time. They can help you sharpen your thinking about overall leadership goals and keep you focussed on how you’re leading day to day.

  • Question 1: What’s one thing that would have the biggest positive impact on your leadership if you STARTED doing it today?

Small, consistent changes are more likely to stick than one-off grand gestures. What leadership quality would you like to emphasize today?

  • Question 2: What’s one thing that would have the biggest positive impact on your leadership if you STOPPED doing it today?

We all have nagging habits and behaviours that we’d rather not indulge in. Choosing one behaviour at a time and being as consistent as possible with changing that before moving on to the next is a terrific way to approach change with compassion (and without being overwhelmed.)

Michelle Lane

Michelle Lane is a leadership development coach, consultant, and facilitator with 40 years of diverse leadership experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Michelle can be reached at

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