What is the big difference between a manager and a leader? Here is one that I’ve noticed. Great leaders are intentional about “goal time.”
Let me explain. First, what do I mean by “intentional?” Managers who become truly effective as leaders embrace their management role by establishing for themselves minimum standards of performance and activity that support their personal and professional goals. These standards are very different from those their direct reports are expected to reach. The standards leaders set for themselves connect to the goals of developing their people and coaching them so that they get better at executing what they know how to do. This embrace of the leadership role does not happen without a consistent, disciplined effort guided by intentional decisions. Intentional means “done on purpose; deliberate.” Intentional leadership, then, is management done on purpose, with decisions made consciously so as to align with important goals – rather than from sheer force of habit.
Managers who become truly effective as leaders embrace their management role by establishing for themselves minimum standards of performance and activity that support their personal and professional goals.
And goal time? This is the time you set aside on the calendar for working with intention on things that align with your goals and activities. It is calendar time devoted to activities that will move you toward the achievement of your goals. These activities tend to be more strategic than tactical. They are often measurable and quantifiable. The concept of goal time starts with a plan and a series of actions that will achieve your plan.
Goal time stands in contrast to clock time. In clock time, you stay busy doing activities that may seem like they are productive from a distance but are likely not moving you measurably closer to any specific meaningful goal. Such activities would include responding to emails, fire-fighting, reading reports, and so on. These are familiar activities that easily fill much of the day if we let them.
This brings us to a critical question: Why do so many managers spend so much of the day in clock time? Because doing so matches up with how the human brain works. People will often do things that are non-threatening or comfortable, until their reticular activating system – a diffuse network of nerve pathways that mediates human consciousness — kicks in and prompts them to do something different. This new action comes from a different part of the brain and requires conscious thought. Those thoughts are a result of intentional plans that have been identified and flagged as personally compelling.
Much like a successful business creates a vision for its future and uses it as a focal point for the whole organization, successful leaders have a personal vision for what they want to achieve and are intentional about their daily activities. They ensure that they are on goal time, working toward the fulfillment of the vision. They know that all the elements of corporate goal setting apply to individual goal setting. There must be an established and embraced goal, a plan to achieve it, documented elements of a compelling plan, and a process in place to measure the progress.
Managers will often commit to a goal in their head but resist the planning and documentation elements. In the absence of a stated and documented individual goal, the human brain will default to its primal instincts — specifically, fear — when faced with the challenges of achieving new levels of performance, mainly because attaining the new levels of performance means moving into unchartered territory. When you do something new and potentially scary for the first time, be it jump off a diving board, speak in public, or call a big prospective customer, your drive to do so must be activated by your post-primal brain, which depends on the steps of documenting and measuring our activities. An understanding of these principles is essential to individual goal facilitation, which is an essential part of your job as a leader.
Individual goal facilitation, with efforts tailored to a specific direct report, is all too often the forgotten element in the effort to develop our people. Our focus is, often, exclusively on the needs of the business; we assume that the direct report will make the connection that if the business or department is successful, they will be successful. In fact, we have to help people connect the dots. True motivation is only in place when an individual employee has concrete reasons to conclude that what is good for the company is equally good for them. These reasons are unique to each individual. It is our job to help people find these reasons and internalize them. Doing this part of the job with the right intention breeds loyalty, trust, and perseverance. And our intention on this score is one of the major factors that can set us apart as leaders of the organizations we serve.
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