Each time a new year rolls in, it offers the opportunity for reflection on the past and renewed energy toward the future. Many of us identify a New Year’s resolution that we want to work toward. Many resolutions center around self-improvement habits, such as increased exercise, healthy eating, or weight loss. The research suggests that by January 18, most of us have either stopped working on the resolution or forgotten it altogether! It is a pattern common to human behavior. Humans are not good at making change. We like the familiar patterns of the way we have always done it (as unhealthy as that may be). Change is hard work and brings discomfort. When life is busy and ongoing change is abundant, change in our personal lives seems daunting, almost impossible. Unfortunately, this pattern of behavior forces us into maintaining the status quo—get up, go to work, complete tasks, go home, go to bed, get up, and so on. Another year has gone by. Where did it go? What did I accomplish? And so, the pattern continues . . . This results in our falling short of our potential or, at worst, never even trying to become the person we are intended to be.
In Primal Leadership, author Daniel Goleman states that “lasting change requires a commitment to envisioning the future of oneself.” In simple terms, this means that you must be intentional about determining where you want to be in the future and how you will get there. No one else is going to do it for you. If someone did, you probably wouldn’t follow through anyway, as it must come from within you. We each have been given a wonderful group of talents, skills, knowledge, and experience. How we impact the world with it creates the legacy of how we will be remembered. I call it Leadership DNA. In his book Why, Be, Do, Lance Secretan describes it this way: We each need to find our “Why, Be, Do.” Why am I here? What kind of person am I going to be? And what I am doing to do with my life? These are critical questions that give us pause in considering what we will do with our Leadership DNA.
For the past several years, I have set aside time toward the end of the year to focus on my goals. I review previous goals, current progress, achievements, setbacks, and failures (yes, I have those too), and categorize the goals as either personal or professional. This process has resulted in enormous change and progress, both personal and professional. For example, I don’t think I would have completed my doctorate if it had not been on the list for several years and I felt pressured to either go for it or take it off the list. Being intentional about where you want to be in the future is key to setting and achieving goals.
So where to start? Envision yourself three years from now. Where are you at? What are you doing? How does it feel? Take a few minutes to ponder that mental picture. Jot down a few notes about it. Give yourself some time to think about it over a few days. If you are not sure about your future, consider the following:
· Ask your supervisor about opportunities within the organization.
· Review job opportunities in the market.
· Consider talking to someone at a college or university if you envision educational advancement.
· Arrange a time to meet with a person in a role you have interest in and explore that person’s path.
· If you are nearing retirement and think this may not apply to you, consider this: How do you want to be remembered? What will your followers and peers say about you when you retire? You have a wealth of experience and knowledge that you can still impart to those following you.
· You must be intentional about making your future happen.
Once you have that picture of your future self and have written it down, ask yourself: What skills, knowledge, and experience do I need to get there? What do I need to start doing? Then begin by establishing a S.M.A.R.T. goal. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that provides a framework for developing goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time driven:
Specific means the goal is clear and unambiguous. For example, a typical goal could be: “Get more education.” But a measurable goal would read: “Return to school to complete a bachelor’s degree.”
Make It Measurable
Measurable stresses the need for concrete criteria for measuring progress. If a goal is not measurable, you can’t know whether you are making progress. First, establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of the goal. Determine whether goals are measurable by asking questions such as: By when? How will I know it is accomplished? Your measurable goal may read: “Return to school to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing.”
When you identify a goal that is important to you, begin to figure out ways you can make it happen by developing the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach it. You begin seeing previously overlooked opportunities to bring yourself closer to the achievement of your goal.
For example, an attainable goal may read: “Return to school and complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing by exploring options for educational funding.” How will you pay for it? Will you pursue grants or reimbursement funds for assistance? You may need to apply for a loan. Consider all options for funding your education. As a professor in a nursing program, I have discovered that many of the returning nursing students wished they had furthered their education sooner but had believed money was a barrier. Once they set their mind to pursuing the goal, they discovered numerous options that they were not even aware of previously.
A goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work. The goal should represent what is realistic for you, your family, and your job responsibilities. Most of us have people in our lives who will be affected by a return to school. Will they be supportive? Do you already have significant stress in your relationships that might worsen, becoming an additional stress on your educational pursuits? There is never a perfect time for returning to school or for any goal that we establish, but we must weigh the pros and cons of each. Talk to those with whom you have close relationships, both at home and in the workplace. You may find them to be incredibly supportive of your goal and willing to assist with some of your responsibilities while you are in school.
A realistic goal would be: “Return to school for a bachelor’s degree in nursing by exploring funding options for educational advancement and developing a system of support for personal and professional responsibilities.” During my pursuit of my education, the administrator was willing to let me work four 10-hour days rather than five 8-hour days. It was incredibly helpful in meeting my educational goal. How can you be more realistic with your goals today?
Timely stresses the importance of grounding goals within a time frame, giving them a target date. A deadline helps you focus on completing the goal on or before the due date. This part of the S.M.A.R.T. goal criteria is intended to prevent goals from being overtaken by the crises that invariably arise in busy lives. For example: “Return to school for a bachelor’s degree in nursing within two years, by exploring funding options for educational advancement and developing a system of support for personal and professional responsibilities” is a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Any personal or professional goal can be put in this format. It will help you be clear about what you want to achieve as well as be articulate when sharing with others.
One final thought: creating S.M.A.R.T. goals is only the first step in goal attainment. It is essential that you spend time daily focusing on your goals. Journaling on your goal progress is a best-practice approach of staying on track. Each day take time to reflect on your goals. What did you do today toward achieving them and what will you do tomorrow? Take a few minutes to journal your thoughts. If you don’t, you will find it to be January 1, 2019, and you have made little progress in your journey toward finding your ideal self and maximizing your Leadership DNA!
Linda Shell, DNP, MA, RN, DNS-CT is a nurse leader and consultant/educator with a passion for developing strong, resilient leaders, effective teams, and healthy work cultures in the field of aging services. She has inspired thousands of leaders to discover their Leadership DNA through her SurTHRIVELeadership platform. For more information on nurse leadership and other topics, visit lindashell.com.
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