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Inside Experts: Knowing what personal goals to set

Passion and self-awareness are key to setting achievable goals

This article is the second in a series on personal development.

In Part One I talked about the importance of creating good personal goals to enhance your personal development while raising your level of excellence.

Even if your employer does not require it, writing your annual personal goals is a valuable exercise and a key to personal success. Despite the importance attributed to setting goals, I’ve noticed many people struggle identifying good personal goals for themselves. Often I’ve sat across from individuals, many of them attorneys, with blank stares on their faces when I asked them to articulate their personal goals. How do you identify the right goals for yourself? I recommend starting from two key places: passion and self-awareness.

Passion is the emotion behind the things you love to do, the things you can do for hours, although it seems like only minutes. Your personal goals should incorporate your passions because your goals will be much easier to achieve if you do. You will naturally tend to accomplish goals that incorporate your passions. For example, if you are passionate about writing, develop a personal goal around writing and then find new ways to incorporate writing into your job responsibilities. When your passion is aligned with your goals, you’ll have more success in achieving them and also find the process more gratifying.

Self-awareness is being aware of oneself, including one's traits, feelings and behaviors. You need to be aware of your skills, strengths, weakness, behaviors, emotions, etc., before you set personal goals for yourself. How can you know what you need to improve or enhance if you don’t really know where you’re starting from?

I began thinking about this issue many years ago when I was appointed to manage a team of attorneys who had been working fairly independently without much oversight and who felt that they were performing their work at the highest level possible. Their business clients didn’t share the same opinion and were far from happy with the service they were receiving.

It was puzzling to me at first. How could there be this disconnect between these hard-working and highly skilled attorneys and their clients? What I came to realize was that the attorneys had a lack of self-awareness. I had to begin the process of providing them with honest feedback which they hadn’t received up until that point. The lack of any constructive feedback had led them to make erroneous conclusions about their relationships with their business clients.

Feedback is critical in achieving self-awareness. Without it you will likely draw the wrong conclusions about the impact of your behavior on others and your work product. Many of us don’t think about routinely getting feedback and sometimes we aren’t open to hearing it. However, getting good feedback is crucial in helping you understand your strengths and weaknesses. You need that understanding in order to set good personal goals.

Feedback may be obtained informally by simply asking a colleague, peer or business client to let you know how you are performing. Several years back I instituted a program to formalize feedback for attorneys and other legal professionals. Each individual identified three or four key business clients he supported and set up reoccurring one-on-one meetings geared toward obtaining direct feedback. The results were surprising. Individuals reported learning significant and often unexpected information from their business clients and they, in turn, used this information to enhance their own performance.

In addition to getting informal feedback, there are many formal self-awareness programs that work well. For example, companies use institutions such as the Center for Creative Leadership group which offers many programs to help leaders overcome personal and professional challenges. This is done through self-awareness and feedback assessment tools as well as individual coaching. I’ve experimented with several such programs for the legal department over the past few years. One was an emotional intelligence assessment program conducted by Ester Orioli of Essi Systems in which individuals completed an emotional intelligence (EQ) map assessment on themselves to understand their strengths and weaknesses from an EQ perspective. From there they developed a 21-day plan designed to effectuate a desired change in a particular behavior, based on the premise that it takes 21 days to change a behavior.

Another program was conducted using the Strength Finder assessment tool. The philosophy of Strength Finder is to focus on developing and enhancing one’s strengths as opposed to trying to fix one’s weaknesses. The program was conducted by Lelia O'Connor, an executive career coach from the Ngal So Authentic Leadership Group. "Most of us focus too much on the negative” O’Connor says, “We judge, criticize and highlight weakness in ourselves and others. Yet when we shift that focus to the positive and focus on our strengths and the strengths of others we become ‘for’ something instead of ‘against’ it. This opens up a whole world of creativity, new possibilities and accomplishment".

The Strength Finder assessment can be found in the bestselling book by Tom Roth. This assessment tool is very simply and accessible for individuals to use.

However you learn about yourself, through your passions, feedback, or self-assessment tools, you need to understand your strengths and weakness in order to develop good personal goals for yourself. Building goals from self-awareness will increase your success in achieving the goals you set.

Deputy General Counsel

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Matt Allegrucci

Matt Allegrucci is deputy general counsel, legal affairs at Daiichi Sankyo Inc. He can be reached at mallegrucci@dsi.com.

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