The Importance of Setting Goals

“A person with a clear purpose will make progress on even the toughest road.
A person with no purpose will make no progress on even the smoothest road.”

—Thomas Carlyle

Many of us sat around the dinner table on New Year’s Day and espoused our goals for the upcoming year. How many will come true?

Well, that’s to be seen. In the interim, here are some facts about what you’ve done that may surprise you:

  • 87% of people do not have goals
  • 10% of people have goals but do not write them down
  • 3% of people have written goals
  • The 3% accomplish 50 to 100 times more than others.

—Billy Mitchell, Power of Positive Students

We know the power of goal setting with students. When students write their own goals, they take responsibility and ownership for their learning. Goals describe success by painting a picture of the future. Then, it’s as if writing the goal morphs into a large magnet pulling us forward, compelling us to action. The same can be said for us. The mere act of writing down our goals is an act of commitment so strong that the goal can be actualized without ever looking at our list again.

There is wisdom in our deepest wants. Our experience is that most people, (especially educators), rarely speak about what they want. Our role of serving others often reinforces putting the wants and needs of others above our own. Our assertion is that knowing what we want and setting explicit goals for achieving that will accelerate movement toward living our ideal life.

Testing Out the Accuracy of a Fear That May Be Holding You Back from Goal Achievement

Face FearsHow are you doing on accomplishing the goal you set for yourself earlier this month? If you have achieved the goal, a big congratulations to you!

  • Which of the strategies worked best for you?
  • What resources did you call on to support goal achievement?
  • What obstacles did you face and overcome to achieve your goal?
  • What did you learn about yourself as you accomplished your goal?
  • How will you assure yourself that you will stay strong with this goal?

If you are experiencing challenges in accomplishing the goal you set earlier this month, consider the following questions, which call for deep personal introspection:

  • What are you doing that is keeping you from accomplishing your goal? Be specific.
  • What are you not doing, that if you did do, would support movement toward your goal? Be specific.
  • What are you worried about that is keeping you from accomplishing your goal? You may not have even realized it was a worry, until you gave it some deep thought.
  • What are you learning about yourself as you identify your greatest fears related to not accomplishing your goal?
  • How are you feeling about yourself as you move toward overcoming your fear?

Here is a concrete example:

Let’s say that you really want to become more coach-like in your coaching conversations with teachers. You plan to talk much less and listen much more as each teacher describes his/her goals and articulates actions to take and checkpoints to measure success. You feel that this is a very solid plan to increase the thinking and actions of teachers, which you deeply desire to happen.

Yet – when the conversations begin, you feel yourself wanting to tell the teachers what you think they need to do. And, before you know it, you are the one talking most of the time and the teacher is listening and taking notes. While you know that you are breaking your own agreement on how to be and what to do when meeting with the teachers, you feel compelled to tell, in fear that without your telling teachers, your school may not get the results that are expected by you and district leadership.

What to do? How might you test out your fear to see if it is accurate? In other words, is that fear holding you or are you holding that fear? And, if you are the holder, how might you go about releasing the fear? What data are you willing to collect in order to determine the accuracy of your fear? How might you follow through with the goal you set and collect data to see ways in which your actions really do bring about the results you desire?

Here is the SMART test that Kegan and Lahey (Immunity to Change, 2009) offer in testing out the accuracy of fearful assumptions:

  1. Safe and Modest. Perhaps you decide to work on this goal with at least five of your teachers, rather than 25 teachers. You select three high-performing teachers and two teachers that are experiencing some challenges in their performance. You plan to follow through with the goal you have set where you listen much more and talk much less during the conversation. Prior to beginning the conference, you have identified three to five open-ended questions you plan to ask the teachers. At least one of the questions addresses how the teacher’s goals align with the overall goals of the school.
  2. Actionable. Your plan seems doable rather than overwhelming since you are focused on a real and important area. You have selected one behavior to test out (listening more – talking less) instead of multiple behaviors.
  3. Research-based. You will take a research stance and gather data about yourself as you test out your fear assumption. Your data gathering will focus on what happens when you act against the fear that seems to keep you from doing what you deeply desire to do. You plan to chart student results and engagement aligned to teachers who were given a larger voice during the conversations. You will also gather data on how teachers describe the effectiveness of conversations when they are given more time to think and speak about goal acquisition.
  4. Test. You remind yourself that you are simply testing out your fear assumption to gather data and see what you learn. It’s a data-collection stance.

Want to work more on the challenge of change? Join us for one of our upcoming seminars or contact us to come to your district or place of work.

Focus On What You Want

scarfRecently, I arrived early for the final day of a four-day Leadership Coaching for High Performance Seminar. On top of one of the RCG seminar notebooks were two drawings by one of the participants who had captured two critical points dealing with leadership and coaching. Both the SCARF and TARP ideas come from the work of David Rock and the neuroscience.

This participant made two small reminders to revisit multiple times as she works to support others. As a technology coach for a large suburban school district, she was learning that in order to motivate and inspire others to accomplish the results expected in today’s classroom, a coach is well served to remember both the SCARF and TARP concepts.

Here is a brief animated overview of SCARF:

TARP stands for Time, Attention, Repetition and Positive Feedback, which neuroscience says is a must for accomplishing changes that you want to move into habits. Focus on what you want and then give it the time, attention, repetition and positive feedback to develop the new habit. We really do grow from our strengths, so let’s focus on what we want and celebrate small and large steps toward accomplishing the goal.

Want to learn more about SCARF and TARP? Join us for one of our upcoming seminars. And, if you are already following us and believe in our work, please share our articles with others. Thank you for your commitment!!

What Do You Resolve to Change?

“What You Get By Achieving Your Goals Is Not As Important As What You Become By Achieving Your Goals.” Henry David Thoreau


success As we begin the year 2018 with renewed energy and commitment, dedicated leaders, just like you, are reflecting and considering changes they deeply desire for themselves and for those they lead. And, as we all know – the more challenging the change, the more attention and effort it takes to reach and sustain the change we so seriously seek (we refer to this as TARP – Change requires Time, Attention, Repetition, and Positive Feedback).

If you are already a student of the work of Kegan and Lahey (Immunity to Change, 2009), then you know that change challenges are characterized as either technical or adaptive in nature. Technical challenges, while complicated, have a system and order to them. Learn and carry out the steps of the system and you are most likely able to make the change. Mechanics, doctors, musicians, and pilots are examples of people who complete technical challenges on a routine basis.

Adaptive challenges are much more complex because they call for changes in both your head (your thinking) and your heart (your feelings) as you attempt to overcome or rectify a challenge. Interestingly, with adaptive changes, there is typically a hidden fear or worry associated with making the change, and the fear is sometimes so deeply embedded within us that we are unaware it even exists. We set a goal for a change, we start out strong and yet at times, something seems to prevent us from staying the course and accomplishing the desired results. When tough times happen, we might give up on the goal and return to old habits – unless we are willing to examine ways in which we are actually working against or preventing the very goal we so deeply desire to accomplish.

Who better to explain this than Robert Kegan? Here is a link to a short explanation he gives of why some changes are so hard to achieve.

After viewing this video, in what ways did you connect with the change challenges Kegan explained? Kegan mentioned that some changes call for a change in our mindset. In other words, those changes call for adaptations in the way we think and feel about the change we so desperately desire and yet have been unable to achieve. In order to accomplish the change, we must be willing to uncover and face those hidden assumptions that are standing in our way, and then test out the degree of accuracy associated with those assumptions.

When you join us in our Level II seminar, you actually have the opportunity to create an internal look at what might be standing in the way of you accomplishing the goal you so dearly want to achieve. And, along the way – you really are learning more about you as a leader and as a person.

In the meantime, consider the following question: What is one thing that you would like to improve in the way you lead that you have not yet accomplished? Perhaps it is about increasing your role as an instructional leader. Maybe it is being more coach-like as you hold coaching conversations with those you lead. After thinking about it, write your goal down and identify best steps for accomplishing the goal. Keep information on how you are doing with the goal. In a best-case scenario, you are working through this whole process with the support of your coach.

Next, check back with us later this month in our upcoming Coaching Nugget for ways to follow-up with those challenging goals that are hard to accomplish. And, as Thoreau says, be aware of what you are learning about yourself as you move toward the goal you so strongly desire to accomplish.

A Principal’s Positive Bias

Not all biases are negative. Some of our biases move us to assist others or to make contributions that benefit our families, our communities, our schools, our cities, and our world.

Principal Terri recently told us of an experience she had when she noticed a fight in progress in the hall at her large urban high school. When the usual tactics for stopping a fight failed to accomplish the intended mission, Terri waded into the fray between the combatants, becoming injured in the process. As her bias leans toward win-win, she gave her assistant principal responsibility for the in-the-moment interaction while she took care of her own physical and emotional state. This proactive stance allowed her to set aside her strong emotion so that she could stay true to her True North—her positive belief in the student’s potential and the student’s need for Terri’s continued support.

When Terri conferred with the student’s parent, she was able to be fully present and listen for well over an hour, saying, “Tell me more,” and “What else do you want to say about…” which allowed the parent to be fully heard and understood. Terri made a commitment to the parent to support the student’s progress when she returns to school. Her promise put the school and the parent on the same team of support for the student.

Terri clearly has a bias FOR supporting all students. In this instance, she was able to see beyond one incident to the larger picture of success for this student and all students on her campus.

As you reflect on your own biases:

  1. Which ones are potentially limiting you and your leadership effectiveness?
  2. Which positive biases remind you to stay true to your personal mission?
  3. How will you remain conscious of your biases in order to be your best self and best leader?

Managing our Biases

We define coaching as being nonjudgmental. Yet we know that we do have judgment, biases and filters that pop up as interference from time to time as we are acting as thinking partners with another. The first step in managing our own biases, filters, judgments, and assumptions is to recognize that we have them and then to recognize the moments that trigger them.

Many of our biases are implicit. That is, we do not even recognize that we have them and would even vehemently deny that they exist for us. Unrecognized biases are the ones that are most harmful to our effectiveness as coaches and leaders. Implicit biases are unexamined. These unexamined biases may create blind spots, filters that allow only certain information in, and assumptions that may limit our access to a broader range of approaches to new or perplexing situations.

What are some ways to recognize implicit biases? One way is to begin to notice the events, words, or situations that cause us to have a strong emotional response, such as immediate disagreement, pushback, defensiveness, or avoidance. The intense need to convince others of our way of thinking is another potential indicator of a strong bias that may be holding us hostage. Lack of desire to listen to or consider the viewpoints of others may signal that we have a bias that we have not yet examined. Our innate desire to stay safe sometimes conflicts with our strong desire to grow and change in our responses to more positively impact those we lead.

Once we have identified our biases, we can be intentional about determining ways to set them aside in order to be more fully present with others. During those times we find we are being triggered, we are more able to recognize the hot button and push the “keep calm” button instead.

The Principle of Coaching

The focus this month has been essentially about the things that guide our thinking and direction, expectations, standards, principles or core values. As we consider the very fundamental importance of these conversations we learn and recognize that the conversations never are final and always need revisiting about what they mean and what we stand for. As we go through our lives and our careers we do a lot of tasks. Some make little difference or impact to our greater mission, some transform people and how they walk through life and engage with others. What attention and focus do we want to give to those things that make the most lasting difference for our schools and the children in them?

My personal reflection: In my 47-year career I have completed a million tasks, and they seemed endless at the time – from every document in the education system, for sure; to thousands of notebooks for learning; read and prepared for hundreds of book studies; graded thousands of papers; prepared for hundreds of board meetings or staff meetings; finished more budgets than I ever thought possible; and the list goes on … AND yet today, with great reflection, I have realized the most important thing that I have done in my life was engaging with people though conversations. Learning to have conversations as a coach leader has been the most powerful work and time investment commitment of my life. Through coaching, I have learned the skills to influence and inspire more than I even know, and those I do know are golden in my heart. Every conversation I remember: when a child walked away knowing how much I believed in him or her; when a parent left a conference and knew I was a champion for their child; every conversation with my administrator when he valued and even occasionally embraced my crazy ideas; every employee I had to share tough information with and yet they left feeling valued and certain I believed in them to grow. Yes, my life principle grew to approach all things with my “coach identity.” An identity that has taught me to see the brilliance in all people – even when I had to really work at it and what interesting things I have learned about people. An identity that has taught me the most amazing language skills, that even I am amazed by the change I witness sometimes. An identity that has taught me more about people, their goodness, their complexities, their uniqueness-es than all the many psychology and sociology classes I have ever had. How I wish I had had this gift of knowledge when I began my career – and the best thing is, I learned it before the end!

Yes, I know, at last, I really understand the principle that will be forever foremost for me:

Coaching transforms people in the way they desire to be: their best selves.

Lead with Principles not Rules

Our world seems to be full of uncertainty. It spills over into our work in schools. So many kids with so many needs; so many things to do with so little time. How can we possibility get it all done. Recently I was with a young teacher leader and when asked how she was, she commented, “Overwhelmed. Every meeting I attend, someone else gives me something else to do or get done.” When we get overwhelmed in life some people have a spiritual principle that says, “We will never be given more than we can bear.” How might Principles in our systems offer a quiet force of equilibrium? Maybe they might even guide people in their thinking and actions over time.

Eric McNulty, director at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative writes that principles, unlike rules, give people something unshakable to hold on to yet also the freedom to make independent decisions and take actions to move toward a shared objective. Principles are directional, whereas rules are directive. In the business world there are a few examples from which we, in education, might learn. Nordstrom’s has a principle-based approach for all sales associates. “Use your best judgment in all situations.” This shows total trust in the associate and encourages listening to the customer. Very different than the rule, “All merchandise returns must be made within 30 days.” At IBM, Gerstner turned the company around with his groundbreaking idea: managing by principles rather than procedures. Yet, through the years many organizations have been slow to let go of the rule-based handbook. What more impactful place for guiding principles than in education? Here are a few principles found in schools.

  • Children always come first
  • Do no harm to any child or adult
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated
  • Soar with our strengths!
  • Look first for what is right, good, and has possibility
  • Respect all – in words and actions
  • Believe in the brilliance and positive intent of all
  • Measure what matters
  • Know your data and how to leverage it
  • Embrace, adapt to and drive change
  • If it’s great for the staff but not kids, it’s not good
  • Presume Positive Intent
  • Seek feedback for continuous growth

Principles have power in that they communicate trust and demonstrate to employees that they have the freedom to use their judgment to reach the best decisions through the principles with which we work.

How might you want to refine and/or create principles to guide your school or organization?

  • Think of your organization at its best. Dig into the root behaviors, conditions, and other factors that make things work well. Craft principles to reflect and stimulate more of this positive energy. Ask: What happens when my staff is working at their best? How do they demonstrate initiative? How are they free to exercise their best judgment?
  • Be ready to live your principles, even when it gets tough. Actions will always speak louder than words. As a leader, realize that the drumbeat for achievement is constant. You have to ensure that the other principles get as much attention as those bedrock goals and that in practice they fulfill their intention.

Make the principles public. Post them in all conference and work areas. Encourage staff to refer to the principles to explain when they made certain decisions. The more principles are part of daily life, the greater impact they will have.

Reference: Strategy+Business, E. McNulty, Sept.2017

The Leader’s Primary Responsibility – A Clear Focus


As this new year gets well underway it is a great opportunity to pause and simply reflect on your leadership role in providing a clear focus for the work. Here are a few questions to support your thinking:

  • What is the focused mission of the year?
  • What outcomes are the most critical to celebrate success in May?
  • What behaviors and actions are you modeling to drive and maintain the focus through the year?
  • In our seminars we speak of the standards and expectations that drive the engine of focus. How clear and precise are the expectations you have articulated for the year?

Each time I have the privilege to be in a district, people are working enormously hard and, commonly, focused in many different directions. One question, “What is the most important focus for your year?” …yields answers like, – “do it all” “high student success” “work in PLC’s” “use data to drive instruction” “make sure no kids fall through the cracks” and the list goes on. The next question asked is to clarify, “And what does that mean to each member of the team?”

As a leader, what will all members of your team say is the most important focus/goal of their work? How are they reflecting on how they are doing, with what data or visible results? Let’s use the example of “working in a PLC,” and consider the questions below.

  • What specifically does that mean you will see and hear when it is occurring?
  • What is the purpose of working in a PLC?
  • What does each member believe is the benefit to themselves working this way?
  • What are the benchmark self-assessments along the way to support the focus?

There may be many things that demand focus.

  • Which 3-5 things will influence the advancement of many goals and targets?
  • What metaphor or visual provides the image of how a few targeted things influence many results?
  • What data impacts many targets- just in the nature of changes made from it?

Without a clear direction, any destination is okay. With a clear direction, people know for certain what to give their motivation and energy to, why it will make a difference, and what makes this destination important to the greater vision and results. You probably are already thinking it may be a good time to lead some team members in a conversation to see where we are in our journey to the destination this year. One thing we know for sure, it will bring greater clarity and results and an accelerated journey.

The Leadership Gift of Hope

“Hopeful individuals, families, organizations, and communities THRIVE!”

The focus of this month’s social media series are 3 Leadership gifts – solitude, resilience, and hope. Previously, we unwrapped the gifts of solitude and resilience. Now, we are ready to find out how this final gift . . . the gift of hope, when added to the previous two, amplifies the possibilities for even more powerful leadership.

A 2nd session I attended at the International Coach Federation was not a new topic. In fact, it’s one we often make light of when people are setting goals. Often, we hear the language, “I hope I will be able to use all the skills I have learned in this seminar” to which we have replied, “Hope is not a strategy.” Well, as it happens, it IS a strategy and a very powerful one, at that!

With this realization, came the third gift of leadership – the gift of hope. Hope is one of the top predictors of well-being for adults and children. It is part of our core as human beings. And, hope is the leading predictor of satisfaction and happiness in life.

Hope is universal across race, gender, culture, etc. and is not related to income, social status, intelligence, or morality. Hope can be measured. Shane Lopez, in Making Hope Happen, speaks of the beliefs of High Hope People.

High Hope People Believe

  1. The future will be better than the present.
  2. I have the power to make it so.
  3. There are many paths to my goals.
  4. None of them is free of obstacles.

What was really exciting in the session was the presenters’ connection to the neuroscience of hope and trust. Guess what! It matches what we have learned about SCARF and the importance of safety for the brain to be a “hopeful brain”.

Hope Theory contends that there is a distinction between Will Power and Way Power and that it takes both for the emergence of hope. One without the other is merely a wish. Perhaps, that is why we said hope is not a strategy. Both “will power” and “way power” are required for it to become an expectation for goal attainment.

Let’s Make it Personal

Think of a time when you lost hope. How did you know? What did you do to regain it? Who, if anyone, supported you in regaining your hope?

Leadership and Hope
Lopez says, “A leader’s personal hope is a public resource.” Because hope is a personal philosophy, the leader is in a unique position of influence holding the potential to build hope in others. Many of the convocation speeches given by Superintendents as our school year began offered a vision of hope focusing on the future, speaking about will power and way power, building capacity in others to carry the vision of hope forward.

So, these three gifts of leadership – solitude, resilience, and hope showed up unexpectedly in succession creating the opportunity for greater meaning for me. It was only in quietness that I could discover the connection and recognize that these are the attributes of a coach leader – one who reflects, bounces back, and believes in a better world for us all!

How are you using these three gifts – solitude, resilience, and hope?

Reference: Howells, K & Johnston, K (2017) Leveraging The Science Of Hope And Trust In Coaching. International Coach Federation Conference. Washington, DC.