How to Set Goals With an Executive Coach to Unlock All of Your Potential

Consider these factors when establishing your plan.

By Robin Buckley, PhD

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Plenty of articles and books are written about how to achieve your professional goals. Many of us can even articulate the steps. So why do so many of us struggle to establish and achieve our professional goals?

The challenges are two-fold. First, most of us would be more effective if we had some level of accountability, a person to establish timelines for our goals and who checks in with us to evaluate our progress. Second, we often have a tendency to get in our own way. We overthink, react emotionally and essentially get stuck in our heads when it comes to articulating our goals and then building a plan to achieve those goals. Our past failures, self-doubt and disconnect with what we truly want hinders or stops our progress.

What actually happens within the coaching space?

This is where working with an executive coach can help. Executive coaching provides that outside, objective perspective and a place to review and evaluate progress. While you might understand the big picture of what occurs in executive coaching, you might be intimidated by the specifics. What comes next after you've hired a coach? What actually happens within the coaching space to make sure your goals become reality? Executive coaching relies on your goals, so that's where the work starts.

Related: 6 Factors to Consider When Vetting and Hiring an Executive Coach

Executive coaching will often begin with the creation of a three-tier plan:

  • Tier 1. The first tier focuses on the question, "Where do you want to be?" The answer to this question creates your top-tier vision, the overall accomplishment you want to achieve, which coaching will facilitate. Your coach may encourage you to share your ultimate dream, your "best case scenario," without limitations and certainly without judgment. Your coach will ask questions to help you articulate and refine your vision, putting it into concrete terms and outlining specific boundaries to enhance your focus.

  • Tier 2. Once your vision is clearly defined, an executive coach will help you establish your goals towards that vision. The goals on tier two break down the vision into manageable pieces. These become your road map. As you focus on one or more goals at a time, you move towards the accomplishment of your vision.

  • Tier 3. To move forward, however, you need more than the "what" defined by your goals: You also need a "how," and tier three addresses this. Each goal is analyzed to determine action steps to achieve the goal, providing you with a tangible path towards your success.

As your coach helps you define your individualized, professional goals, he or she will also ensure the goals meet the criteria to be effective. Your goals should be articulated in specific, actionable terms, and they should be measurable to provide evidence of your progress or to reevaluate if the action steps aren't working. They should be realistic in terms of time frame and resources. Finally, successful goals align with your values and vision and should be based on a timeline to encourage prioritization and keep you motivated.

Related: The 5 Golden Rules of Goal Setting

As part of goal setting, the executive coach may also assess your strengths and how these can be utilized in the action steps. The strength analysis will also help define how these characteristics and skills can help with any challenges hindering goal attainment. The analysis might be based solely on your self-report, or the coach might ask to incorporate feedback from supervisors, peers or direct reports to create a "whole picture" of your skills.

3 ways you establish goals

There are different ways in which individuals set goals in executive coaching. Very often after a quarterly or annual performance review, an executive becomes aware of areas for development, and the coaching goals are based on what the executive wants to work on towards self-improvement. In addition, executives might already have an awareness of their professional vision for themselves or their organizations, and the goals can be structured around that vision.

Goals can also be established together with your coach. Information from the executive's role, professional feedback or structured assessments can help you and your coach determine the challenges that resulted in the data. Goal setting is then focused on how to improve those areas directly connected to your vision.

Finally, goal setting can be company-directed. An organization might hire a coach to work with an executive. This might come after a poor review or as part of a performance-improvement plan. In this scenario, the goals will likely be based on the organization's vision versus the executive's vision. The organization will then use the goals to ascertain the executive's progress.

Related: Vision: The Driver of Entrepreneurship

When you work with an executive coach, your experience is not going to be like past training or continuing education opportunities. Articulating your ideal vision in coaching becomes an appropriate approach, not just a pipedream, and an individualized plan is created to achieve this vision. You are the expert of your experience, and the coach acts as your guide. Ultimately, your coaching sessions focus on you and where you want to be, with a clearly established path to get there.

Robin Buckley, PhD

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Executive and Couples Coach

A cognitive-behavioral coach with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, Dr. Robin Buckley helps successful women and couples thrive in their careers and relationships.

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