Meaningful Personal Development Goals for Leaders

Businessman smiling with hand raised in deserted rural areaPaul sat down across the lunch table from his mentor, Rita.  “Today I’d like to discuss with you my personal development,” he said.  “I’ve set some goals for myself, and I’d like your thoughts on them.”

Rita listened attentively while Paul outlined three goals: one about gaining some new technical knowledge, another about getting to know more people on the senior leadership team, and the third about seeking out cross-divisional project work to learn other areas of the business.

“Those are good actions for you to take in your career at this company, Paul,” acknowledged Rita.  “Now tell me more about the personal development you want for yourself.”

August Turak, author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning and Authenticity, writes “’Personal development’ is compartmentalized; it becomes something we do off the clock and in our spare time in order to ‘get ahead’.”  Rita’s question to Paul challenged him to think more about who he wants to be than what he wants to accomplish.  Turak argues for “making personal development the central mission of our lives rather than merely the means to a more limited end”.

Many business goal-setting exercises encourage people to think about their personal development as career enhancement activities, as Paul did.  But in so doing, these exercises may unintentionally limit the real power of personal development to fundamentally change the playing field by awakening in each person his or her own greatest potential.

So let’s change the frame.  Let’s assume for a moment that personal development is something we as leaders do ‘on the clock’ – all our waking hours, not just our business hours.  Let’s assume its goals are personal, not professional.  Let’s ask for life goals.

How does personal development happen in such a dynamic environment?

  • The goals are not an end; they’re a means. One of Paul’s responses to Rita was, “I want to make it a habit to learn something from every person I meet; to be curious enough to find what their contribution is to the world.”  Another person’s goal was to be a catalyst for others’ ideas, by asking questions and being encouraging.  Personal development goals are about habitual behaviors you want for yourself.
  • The goals are about being, not acting or completing. What nouns and adjectives would you like people to use to describe you?  Advocate?  Supportive?  Collaborator?  Prioritize them to the top 3, then define for yourself what you would be doing in order to be consistently described that way.
  • The goals are applicable to all your endeavors. Your personal development goals should be as applicable to your role in coaching your daughter’s soccer team or serving on your local nonprofit board as they are to your professional career.
  • The goals are fluid because they’re transformative. Personal development goals shouldn’t be the same for a lifetime.  They will morph.  Some will be extensions of a theme.  Others will be discovered because of the efforts made on initial goals.  Personal development is growth, and with growth comes changes in outlook.

As a leader, and as a person, you want to be the best you can be.  It is an essential human longing – a legacy we each hope to leave.  Make your personal development goals personally meaningful.  The leadership growth you will achieve from them will delight you.  American author Og Mandino captures the spirit of true personal development: “I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply all my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy.”

Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant

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