Coaching Leadership

Goal settingis strategicplanning

Leadership at the bottom:

We mistakenly assume that leadership is reserved for the people at the top — especially crème de la crème leadership activities like creating vision, strategy and core values. This is a perilous mistake that cuts off executives from employees, chokes the idea pipeline, and obstructs professional development at all levels.

Don’t be one of those executives who is so precious he can’t bring himself to ask his employees for ideas and help.

Executive Summary:

I will build this blog off of one key example of:

  1. how an “elite” leadership type activity is being practiced by employees at all levels,
  2. and by not recognizing this, we undercut the potential contribution of our employees and our employee engagement and development efforts.

Front line supervisors do strategic planning:

Here is an example many people find surprising.

Front line supervisors generally don’t attend corporate strategic planning sessions and don’t set corporate vision & strategy. Most people incorrectly assume from this that supervisors don’t do strategic planning. Supervisors, consequently, are rarely consulted during strategic planning and don’t benefit from the ever-so-valuable techniques and practices of strategy.

Big mistake.

If you are setting goals, then you are doing strategic planning at the individual level.

If you are prioritizing for your team, then you are doing strategic planning at the team level.

Leaders at all levels, including front line supervisors, are doing this work. All of the following are strategic activities:

  • establishing direction and priorities
  • setting goals
  • aligning individual and team goals with organizational objectives
  • making decisions that are strategically meaningful & relevant
  • deploying resources: time, effort, people power, capital…
  • maintaining focus … and a clear line of sight to the big picture

Supervisors are doing this stuff every day—well or poorly—but they are doing it anyway. Every decision a supervisor makes reflects the strategic agenda (well or poorly) and has an impact on strategy execution (helps, hinders, or is irrelevant).

Our challenge is to help them do all of this better—in a way that helps push the strategic agenda forward, engages them more deeply in their work, contributes to their development, and makes them more loyal to the organization.

If we really understand that goal setting and prioritizing are strategic activities (strategic planning at the individual & team levels), then our development work in this area can be specifically designed to have a double bang for the buck. We will be able teach people how to set goals and priorities in a way that better prepares them for learning how to do strategic planning down the road—and better enables them contribute to strategic activity today!

Two practical implications:

Let’s look at two big practical applications of this insight.

(For the rest of the blog I will refer to employees rather than supervisors, but everything I am saying applies in some way both to employees and leaders at all levels.)

1. Use strategic planning tools for goal setting:

Try using some of the classic strategic planning questions for coaching, goal setting, and performance planning at the individual and team levels. It’s fun, productive, and educational. Here are some examples (these can be easily modified for teams and projects):

  • Gap analysis: Where are you now [current state], where do want to go [desired state], and how are going to get there [plan]?
  • SWOT’s: What are your biggest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with respect to your job? Just like in strategic planning, this will open questions about how much is possible, what resources will be needed, who is going to do what by when, etc.
  • Stretch: Could you complete your job goals faster, with fewer resources, with greater output, impact, or results?
  • Relevance: Review the organization’s vision, strategy, and most important targets for the year, and then the team’s most important targets for the year. Then ask: What could you do that would have the biggest possible impact on team and organizational success?
  • Stakeholder approach to the balanced scorecard: You can help your employees create a balanced scorecard based on the various stakeholders they serve and the results they are expected to generate for each. Now that’s a great way to manage effort and achievement.
  • MVS&V: Create a mission statement, vision statement, strategy, and set of core values for you and your job. Ensure they are aligned to corporate vision, strategy, and values.

These questions are not so new, but if we frame goal setting and prioritizing as a strategic activity, we will reap multiple benefits (productivity, engagement, development…).

The possibilities here are endless—a branding approach, entrepreneurial approach, etc. In the book Strategy Safari (Free Press 1998), Mintzberg outlines 10 major approaches to strategy formulation. I would bet that all 10 could be applied in some powerful way to goal setting and prioritizing at the individual and team levels. Again: fun, productive, and a great education.

2. Engage employees in the planning process:

Create opportunities to engage your employees in strategic thinking and strategic planning—even if they are not invited to your offsite.

  • It all starts with clearly communicating your strategy to employees, and ensuring they all understand their role in the big picture (how they can make a difference)
  • Engage everyone in aligning individual and team goals with organizational objectives
  • Ask for employee input prior to the offsite—and throughout the year
  • Teach managers how to engage their teams when preparing for planning sessions
  • Engage employees in discussing and working on the big challenges and opportunities of the business
  • Build a functional customer listening post strategy that educates employees about the ever changing needs of your customers, and engages employees in generating customer satisfaction and retention
  • Train and coach employees in strategic thinking
  • Train and coach leaders on how to develop and leverage strategic thinking on their teams


Employees at all levels exercise leadership. Not recognizing this undercuts their potential contribution and undermines our employee engagement and development efforts.

We do a far better job of developing our employees, and we get far more out of goal setting and prioritizing when we treat those activities like strategic planning at the individual & team levels.

What we are talking about here is making our employees part of the solution—not by asking them to blindly following orders but by contributing earlier in the process and at deeper levels.


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Advanture helps organizations improve leadership practices and align culture with vision & strategy for enhanced business performance and long term, sustainable success. Performance by design!

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