Becoming a Better Coach – Understanding and Setting Goals

Written By Randy Hall  |  Coaching, Leadership 


This is part three of a five part series on becoming a better coach. Each article explores a different element of what it takes to help others accomplish more than they thought they could and become the kind of coach that can consistently build high performing teams and an unstoppable organization. You can start at part one by going here

I touched on the subject of goals very briefly in my first post in this series but I want to dive a little deeper into the discussion of goal setting and the power of helping others set and achieve meaningful goals as well as the importance of a coach understanding the goals of others.

I was working with a group of sales managers recently when I asked each of them to take a few moments and write down the goals of their top three performers. None of the sales managers could answer the question with anything more than a few vague guesses or some business jargon.

I’ve asked that question several times and the outcome is usually the same. On a very few occasions, I have had a manager very clearly describe what their team members wanted out of life, out of their career, out of their year. When I ask these managers to tell me how successful their team is relative to the others in the business, it’s always at or near the top. More importantly, they sustain that kind of performance. They are successful every year, not just sometimes.

These managers understand that in order to coach someone, you have to know what they want. If you don’t know, you have to find out. If they don’t even know themselves, you have to help them discover it for themselves. Any leader who wants to help others achieve their potential has to have a clear understanding of that person’s goals. You simply can’t help anyone get where they want to be if you can’t even identify that place.

There are a lot of ideas floating around about goal setting. The most prevalent is probably the SMART acronym. It states that effective goals must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. All of these are beneficial components of a well-written goal but they fail to address the most important factor. The goal has to be compelling to the individual who is setting it. I could set a goal to climb Mt. Everest by the end of 2012 and while I could certainly construct it to fit the SMART acronym, I will never achieve it. I simply don’t have a burning desire to climb Mt Everest.

Goals are not something someone writes down for you or convinces you to achieve, they are things that tug at your heart, that cause you to push a little harder, work a little longer, and get up a little earlier. If you understand the goals that would cause another person to do these things, congratulations, you have the foundation you need to be able to coach them. If you don’t know what those compelling goals are for someone you are coaching, then it’s likely that you are coaching them to achieve your goals, not theirs. That’s rarely successful and never sustainable.

One of the fallacies about goals and goal setting is that there are personal goals and business goals. Let’s face it, being successful is hard. People who get there do it because of something they want to personally feel, experience or achieve. If a person can’t connect business success to something that is meaningful to them on a personal level, they have very little chance of making it happen. All goals are personal goals, whether or not they are related to what a person does for a living. Often as coaches, we hold ourselves back from asking about what people want to achieve in life and limit our discussions to the goals that are directly related to the business. Unfortunately, while we can separate the two things on paper, or in a performance management plan, we can’t separate them inside the person. When was the last time you worked hard, went the extra mile and overcame challenges to accomplish something that meant nothing to you on a personal level?

Helping others set goals and understanding the ones they already have is critical to the coaching process. Coaching someone without that understanding is like giving them directions to Chicago when they are trying to get to Seattle. Even if you do manage to get them to Chicago, pretty soon they will be looking for someone else who can help them get to Seattle.

Find out where they want to go and who they want to be. Find out what’s driving them, energizing them and inspiring them. Find out what they are passionate about and what they are committed to. Once you understand these things then, together, you can create the road map to help them get there. If they don’t yet have a clear set of goals, then help them create that vision for themselves. Do that for someone you are coaching and you will change his or her life. You will change your life as well because you will become the kind of coach that can help others create and achieve their best future. That’s a goal you might find more satisfying than any other.

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