Updated Jan. 4, 2021: Goals are important motivators. Often, if you commit to something, whether in writing or by verbalizing it, you’re more likely to achieve it.
Need a little inspiration for your own 2021 career to-do list? We asked executive coaches to weigh in with some suggested goals for the year ahead.
1. Push your comfort zone
Rachel Cooke, founder of Lead Above Noise, a company that conducts team, leader and organization development, has been busy in recent weeks and months working with clients on their 2021 agendas. One of the top three items her clients will focus on over the next 12 months: expanding comfort zones.
“Apply for an aspirational job even if you don't meet every criterion or extend a networking invitation to someone that feels out of your league,” said Cooke.
This goal could also include taking on a project you’re not sure how to tackle and trusting yourself to figure it out as you go, or perhaps finding an opportunity to talk in front of an audience.
Find something that scares you a little in 2021 and do it.
2. Grow a skill
A new year is an opportunity to expand your knowledge and skill set, continuing to grow as a professional and as a person. Plan to learn something new in 2021 or further develop a blossoming expertise, said Cooke.
Learning something new could mean taking a course focused on a skill of interest to you whether it’s writing, coding, public speaking or anything else. Accomplishing this goal could also involve simply reading or participating in a self-guided study on the topic or finding a mentor or coach willing to guide you through learning that skill.
Read our interview with Quincy Larson, who wants to teach the world to code for free.
“Enhancing a specific skill or capability bolsters our overall skill set, which in turn expands our ability to grow or take on new challenges,” said Cooke.
3. Find time to think
With so many people occupied by external noise these days, whether it’s from staff, customers, social media, suppliers or partners, executive coach Patrick Tucker, of True Measure Advisors, suggests including stillness on your to-do list for 2021.
“A stillness goal starts with daily silence of five to 15 minutes working up to 30 or 60 minutes,” said Tucker, who coaches executives and owners. “It also includes a monthly, one-day business retreat away from the office and if possible all tech for the day. Stillness is not meditation, in that with stillness you want your mind to be clear but engaged in deep thinking.”
Some of the world’s most successful business leaders, including Warren Buffett, regularly schedule time for themselves to simply think.
4. Find the right boss
Whom you work for is more important than the work you’re doing if you want to learn and grow, said Debra Benton, an executive coach, president of Benton Management Resource, and author of 11 books including “The Leadership Mind Switch: Rethinking How We Lead in the New World of Work.”
“Objectively look at your current boss and determine whether she or he is a good boss for you at this point in your career,” said Benton. “A good boss has your back when you mess up, sees your potential and challenges you with tougher assignments in those areas as well as new areas that you need development in, and frankly, is one who sets an example of the type of manager you want to be.”
If you take emotion out of it and determine your boss does not meet the criteria outlined by Benton, it’s time to look for a manager in your company who might be more appropriate and try to get into a job with that person. If the right boss doesn’t exist inside your company, it may be time to look elsewhere, said Benton.
5. Be of service
One last note: Goals shouldn’t necessarily be all about your own career advancement. Consider giving back in some way as well.
“Offer to coach or mentor someone junior to you in your organization,” said Cooke, of Lead Above Noise. “Offer to host a series of panels or discussions or even a book club.”
You might also offer to speak at local schools or universities on a relevant topic or lead a philanthropic effort at work.
“Being of service expands our ability to connect and be a meaningful part of the community and ecosystem of our organization — and this drives our opportunity to grow,” said Cooke.
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