Goals are powerful. Reaching these culminates not only in great reward, but also a sense of achievement, confidence, and moving ahead.
But goal-setting can also be perilous.
In my practice, I generally partner with the CEO or a member of the senior team to work through transitions of all kinds. If they approach me about doing organizational work, they generally seek success in helping the enterprise expand or realign to keep up with current and future demand. If I am brought in to help them or a member of their team on a personal level, they focus on goals such as higher productivity, better performance, or a greater ability to meet company objectives.
The challenges for which these leaders engage me are important. The world demands that we show up and keep up if we are to remain competitive and viable. But these goals are transactional.
And transactional goals can actually be harmful and counterproductive unless these are tied to a bigger transformation.
Before I explain why and how, it’s necessary to explain the difference between transactional and transformational goals.
First, the word transaction relates to the action of conducting business. It calls to mind those tasks and activities that are required to ensure smooth operations. The word transformation, on the other hand, connotes a metamorphosis or life change.
Here are some examples for comparison:
The goals in both columns can be worthy. However, unless you set your transactional goals with the following in mind, you may get into trouble.
Ask yourself the following:
1. Does this goal align with my values?
Unless you begin with your values in mind, you may wind up setting goals that conflict with what you hold most important. For example, if a chief transformation you desire is to become a more attentive and devoted parent, but all of your transactional goals keep you from being with your family, this is a conflict. Before you set any goals, revisit your top values and use these as your compass.
2. Does this goal support my own priorities?
Transactional goals may be subconsciously chosen to please or impress others, instead of being in your own best interest. I have coached executives who seek to achieve more so that they meet an ideal that their deceased parents held dear. Living your life for someone else will eventually wind up as a life “un-lived.” Ask yourself why you have set a particular transactional goal and whether this is truly a priority for you, regardless of others.
3. What transformation does this goal support?
Your transactional goals should support a sought-after transformation. Quite often, we can become addicted to reaching transactional goals and treat these as the “end game,” or tie this to self-worth (“I achieve, therefore, I am worthy”). Either is a dangerous and misleading path. Make sure that your transactional goals are simply milestones toward a larger transformation you desire for yourself. A good example would be, “I will lose 10 pounds (transactional) because this is part my goal to adopt a healthier lifestyle (transformational).”
In addition to these cautions, be sure to respect the journey as you work toward your goals. This is where great growth and transformation – the process of becoming a better version of yourself occurs.
Note: With appreciation to a great friend, Dennis del Valle for inspiring this topic. Dennis is a well-known marriage and family therapist, thought leader and speaker. Part of his practice entails leading small groups of highly successful business leaders to achieve exponential personal and professional growth, and I am privileged to be a part of one of them.
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.