The last few years during the pandemic have been nothing if not difficult. Not only have work schedules shifted considerably, but even the most self-motivated employees have had to be more self-directed than ever before.
This is particularly true for leaders. As you move up the corporate ladder, you have less-defined objectives. At the same time, you have more meetings and a longer to-do list, so you’re struggling to make time for the initiatives that matter most to you. The pandemic, in turn, meant you had more “fires” that required your immediate attention than ever before.
“This combination of reduced accountability, a long list of to-dos, and fear of looking incompetent usually creates a career plateau [for leaders]. When we stop working on our individual skills, we stop growing,” writes innovation coach Diana Kander.
If you work mostly autonomously, or if no one is going to “reprimand” you for not following through, letting yourself off the hook can be a slippery slope. If you face no external consequences for missing a deadline you set for yourself or failing to live up to your once-high standards on a project, you may be tempted to see what you can get away with again.
Business coach Steve Smith explains why diminishing self-accountability can become such a problem.
“Done repeatedly, we develop a habit of convincing ourselves that not doing what we say we will do has no real consequences. This level of avoidance and denial, to the contrary, has real severe consequences on our ability to maintain trust with others and a stable level of conviction within ourselves,” he explains.
How, then, can leaders hold themselves accountable for self-improvement and meeting their self-imposed goals?
Here are our favorite suggestions.
Root out the “why” behind your daily routine.
If you have developed unproductive habits, or find that you are spending too much time on tasks you don’t find meaningful, it can be difficult to snap yourself out of them with willpower alone. Instead, you need to determine how these time sucks are counterproductive to the outcomes you want.
In turn, you need a clear rationale for your goals. How do they connect with your personal mission? How are you working towards these objectives on a yearly, monthly, weekly, and even daily basis?
If you find that too much of your life is consumed with tasks that don’t help you reach your goals, you’ll be that much more motivated to eliminate or reduce the number of hours spent on those time wasters that don’t serve you.
Find an accountability partner.
When you don’t have a “boss” per say, it can be more difficult to motivate yourself without the stress of reprimand or the possibility of praise. But connecting with someone else about your goals doesn’t mean that you lack an internal drive.
Instead, telling someone else what you want to achieve gives you another level of accountability outside of yourself. That means that someone else will be excited for you when you achieve your ambition, or disappointed if you let yourself down.
Share your goals with others – and follow through with what you say.
Telling your accountability partner about your goal means that you’ll be much more likely to achieve it. Research from the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) found that 65 percent of participants followed through with their goal if they told someone else about it.
Something that boosted that figure even higher? Holding an accountability appointment with a partner boosted the likelihood of goal achievement to an astounding 95 percent. That means that you set a deadline for achievement, and then make an appointment to meet with your partner to discuss this achievement, you’ll be much more likely to make it happen.
So, if you really want to accomplish something and need that extra push, put an accountability appointment on your calendar.
Develop goal milestones that are achievable and deadline-oriented.
There’s a famous quote that says, “A goal with a plan is just a wish.” This is certainly true, and when we move into management roles, we may realize how much we relied on our bosses to make these plans for us. Creating goals for other people is often easier than making plans for ourselves.
If you have professional goals for yourself, however, creating intermediate milestones in between is imperative to their achievement. Set a timeframe for your goal and then set smaller, obviously-achievable steps towards achievement. What deliverables let you know when you’ve achieved a step? How long will it take you to achieve these steps?
Keep a list of your long-term and short-term goals in a place that’s immediately accessible, and check them when you plan your schedule each week. Allotting weekly time towards goal achievement ensures that you don’t let your daily obligations neglect your longer-term objectives.
Self-Accountability Is Easier with Others
The difference between early-career roles and leadership positions is the level of self-accountability required. Though you may have more senior executives to whom you report, you still are likely expected to be self-directed and responsible primarily to yourself.
Certainly, if you tell yourself you’re going to do something, you build internal trust by following through with that commitment. But the likelihood of prioritizing your own goals is exponentially greater if you share them with others. Though you may not have someone telling you what to do anymore, you can tell others what you plan to do.
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