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Becoming a Better Coach – Understanding and Setting Goals

By Randy Hall

This article is part three of a five part series about coaching. Each part explores a different element of what it takes to be an effective coach. Learn how to empower your team to help them accomplish more than they ever imagined. If you master these skills, you can consistently build outstanding teams that provide top medical care and extraordinary client service. Get ready to establish your practice as THE only place to go in town. Not by your prices or equipment, but by how well you coach your team.

I briefly talked about goals in part one of this series. Now it’s time to discuss in more detail what goal setting is and the extraordinary power of helping others set and achieve them.

I worked with a group of practice owners recently. I asked each of them to take time to write down the goals of their top three performing associates. None of the practice owners could answer the question with anything more than a few vague guesses. It wasn’t a surprise. I’ve asked that question several times over my years of working with veterinary practices, and I usually get the same type of answers.

Once in a while, I meet an owner who clearly describes what their team members want out of their year, life and career. When I ask these owners to tell me the level of their team’s success, it’s always at or near the top. More importantly, the team sustains that high performance year after year. That comes as no surprise, either.

If You Don’t Know, Ask

To coach someone effectively, you have to know what they want. If you don’t know, you have to find out. If they don’t know what they want, then 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 identify that place.

Do Goals Have to be SMART?

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 2019. 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. They cause you to push a little harder, work a little longer, and rise a little earlier. When you understand the goals that cause another person to do these things, congratulations! You now have the foundation to be able to coach them. If you don’t know those compelling goals 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.

Personal and Career Goals Go Together

One of the fallacies about goal setting is that there are personal goals and career goals. Let’s face it, being successful is hard. If a team member can’t connect career success to something that is deeply meaningful to them on a personal level, they have very little chance of achieving it. All goals are personal goals, whether or not they are related to the person’s role in our practice. Often as coaches, we hold ourselves back from asking about what people want to achieve in life. We limit our discussions to the goals that are directly related to the practice. 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 and went the extra mile to accomplish something that meant nothing to you personally?

Helping Others Set Goals

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

Find out where your employees want to go and who they want to be. Discover what’s driving them, energizing them and inspiring them! What are they passionate about? What are they committed to? Once you have this understanding, together, you can create the roadmap to help them get there. If they don’t yet have a clear set of goals, help them create that vision for themselves. Do that for someone you are coaching and you will change his or her life. Bonus: you will change your life as well. 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.