Posts Tagged ‘effectiveness’

Goals - Keeping Clients Interested

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

My daughter Kelly Goldsmith and I reviewed research on goal-setting and asked ourselves questions such as:
Why do people so frequently give up in their quest for personal improvement? Most of us understand that “New Year’s resolutions” seldom last through January – much less for the entire year! What goes wrong?

We found six of the most important reasons that people give up on goals:


One of the biggest mistakes in all of leadership development is the roll-out of programs and initiatives with the promise that “this will make you better”.

Successful people tend to have a high need for self-determination. In other words, the more that leaders commit to coaching and behavior change because they believe in the process, the more the process is likely to work. The more they feel that the process is being imposed upon them or that they are just casually “trying it out” – the less likely the coaching process is to work.

Coaches and companies that have the greatest success in helping leaders achieve long-term change have learned a great lesson – don’t work with leaders who don’t “buy in” to the process. As coaches, we need to have the courage to test our client’s commitment to change. If clients are just “playing a game” with no clear commitment, we need to be willing to stop the process – for the good of the company and for the good of the coaching profession.

In goal-setting coaches need to ensure that the change objectives come from “inside” the person being coached and are not just externally imposed with no clear internal commitment. Coaches need to let clients know that they are ultimately responsible for their own lives. As coaches we need to make it clear that we are there to help our clients do the work – not to do the work for our clients.


Goal-setters have a natural tendency to underestimate the time needed to reach targets. Everything seems to take longer than we think that it should! When the time elapsed in working toward our goal starts exceeding expectations, we are tempted to just give up on the goal. Busy, impatient leaders can be even more time-sensitive than the general population.

In setting goals with leaders it is important to be realistic about the time needed for them to produce a positive, long-term change in behavior. Habits that have taken 48 years to develop will not go away in a week. Let them know that others’ perceptions may seem “unfair” and that as they change behavior – others may not fully recognize this change for months. In this way when they face time challenges they will not feel like there is something “wrong” with them or with their co-workers. They will realize that this is a normal part of the change process. Ultimately, as the research shows, perceptions will begin to change and co-workers will begin to appreciate changed leadership behavior.


The optimism bias of goal-setters applies to difficulty as well as time. Not only does everything take longer than we think it will – it requires more hard work! Leaders often confuse two terms that appear to be synonymous – but are actually quite different – simple and easy. We want to believe that once we understand a simple concept, it will be easy to execute a plan and achieve results. If this were true everyone who understood that they should eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly would be in shape. Diet books are almost always at the top of the best seller lists. Our challenge for getting in shape – as well as for changing leadership behavior - is not understanding, it is doing!

In setting goals it is important that leaders realize that real change will take real work. Making client’s feel good in the short-term with statements like “this will be easy” and “this will be no problem for you” can backfire in the long-term when they realize that change is not easy and that they will invariably face some problems in their journey toward improvement. Letting leaders clearly understand the price for success in the beginning of the change process will help prevent disappointment that can occur when challenges arise later in the change process.


Goal setters have a tendency to underestimate the distractions and competing goals that will invariably appear throughout the year. One good counsel that a coach can give an executive is, “I am not sure what crisis will appear – but I am almost positive that some crisis will appear!”

In planning for the future, coaches need to help executives assume that unexpected distractions and competing goals will occur. Build in time in change projections to “expect the unexpected”. By planning for distractions in advance, leaders can set realistic expectations for change and be less likely to give up on the change process - when either special problems or special opportunities emerge.


Goal setters tend to become disappointed when the achievement of one goal doesn’t immediately translate into the achievement of other goals. For example, a dieter who loses weight may give up on his weight loss effort when women don’t immediately begin to love him.

Leaders need to personally “buy in” to the value of a long-term investment in their own development. If coaching clients think that improving leadership skills will quickly lead to short-term profits, promotions or recognition – they may be disappointed and may give up when these benefits don’t immediately happen. If coaching clients see the change process as a long-term investment in their own development – and something that will help them become more effective over the course of their careers - they will be much more likely to “pay the price” needed to achieve success.


Once a goal-setter has put in all of the effort needed to achieve a goal, it can be tough to face the reality of maintaining changed behavior. One of the first reactions of many dieters upon reaching their weight goal is to think, “This is great! Now I can start eating again. Let’s celebrate with some pizza and beer!” Of course this mind-set leads to future weight gain and the “yo-yo” effect that is unfortunately so common in dieters.

Coaching clients need to clearly understand – leadership is a process – not a state. Leaders can never “get there”. Leaders are always “getting there”. The only way that exercise helps people stay in shape is when they face the reality that “I have to work on this stuff for the rest of my life!” Leaders need to accept that leadership development is an ongoing process that never stops. Leadership involves relationships – relationships change and people change – maintaining any positive relationship requires ongoing effort over a long period of time. It doesn’t occur because someone “got better” and stayed in this state of “betterness” forever.

In Summary

Coaches can either help leaders set goals that increase their probability of long-term change, or help leaders set goals that may feel good in the short-term – but lead to disillusionment and “giving up” in the long-term.

Coaches that have the courage to tell the truth “up-front” and challenge leaders in goal-setting can go beyond being “highly paid friends”. Honest, challenging coaches can help leaders make a real difference – both in their organizations and in the lives of the people they lead.

Life is good.


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Common Sense and Common Practice

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

In our study on leadership development, we found that managers who asked their co-workers for suggestions for improvements, listened to these suggestions, learned from the people around them, and consistently followed up to check on progress were seen by their direct reports and colleagues as becoming more effective leaders.

Managers who didn’t ask and follow up were not seen as becoming more effective leaders—even though they participated in exactly the same leadership development programs. In hindsight, these findings are common sense.

When people ask us for input, listen to our ideas, try to learn from us, and follow up to check on their progress, our relationship with them almost invariably improves and they become more effective in their dealings with us.

Yet while asking may be common sense, it is far from common practice. My good friend Jim Kouzes (who with Barry Posner co-authored the best-selling book The Leadership Challenge), has reviewed ratings from tens of thousands of people who completed questionnaires evaluating the leadership skills of their managers. “Asking for input on how he or she can improve” scores in last place in terms of direct-report satisfaction with managers.

Life is good.