Why leaders should set new year’s goals as opposed to resolutions

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When do we stop saying “Happy New Year”? 

I know some people who will only express the greeting in the first week of the year, after which it’s deemed redundant. While others feel it’s more appropriate to say it on the first encounter of the year. Personally, I will wish someone a happy new year if the first time I see or speak to them is in January. Otherwise, I’ll just give it a miss. 

Aside from the “do I, or don’t I?” around the new year greeting, something else I’ve always found a bit awkward is when people start asking about new year’s resolutions. 

I was coaching a new client for the first time the other day. It had been a productive session, and at the end of the hour I asked him if he had any specific questions on what we’d covered during our meeting. 

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do”, he replied. “What are your new year’s resolutions?” 

“I never make any”, I said, having anticipated a question more related to what we’d discussed. 

He looked confused. Almost upset for me. I could see he needed to know why. 

“I don’t believe in resolutions, but I always set goals as part of my yearly vision”, I explained before suggesting that we add goal setting and professional visioning to our agenda for our next catch up. 

I have always seen a big difference between goals (or a vision) and resolutions per se.  

You see, when I see the word ‘resolution’, I am immediately drawn to the ‘solution’ component of the word, and therefore the need to solve a problem … as in ‘conflict’ or ‘dispute’ resolution. On the other hand, setting goals and a vision isn’t necessarily about fixing anything, but is more aligned to thinking about what I want to achieve or accomplish – particularly on a professional level. 

So, if on the first of January, you made a bunch of resolutions – to get fit, lose weight, drink or spend less, read more, be a better friend, etc, go you! Three weeks into the new year, how exactly are you going with those? 

Leading researchers in the field of clinical psychology have found that only about 8-12% of us achieve one, let alone multiple resolutions. And yet despite this, so many people keep doing it. Why? Because for the most part people are too optimistic and think too big. 

When coaching leaders, I have always encouraged them to set smaller, attainable goals, instead of a singular (often overwhelming) goal at the start of the year. 

This gives them a much better chance of achieving what they are aiming for. 

Researchers in the field of social psychology explain that with each resolution we make a commitment to use our willpower, but our supply of willpower doesn’t increase with each new resolution. In fact, each time we try to keep just one of the multiple resolutions, we use up some of the precious willpower that is needed to keep the others. So, in effect, we are working against ourselves and severely limiting our ability to attain any of the goals we’ve set. 

Although many of us will have come across them in the past perhaps as far back as high school, or in a first-year compulsory university course, this is a good time to reinforce the importance of setting SMART goals. 

To create a clear vision and lead teams more effectively, leaders should set SMART goals at the start of the year – both for themselves and for their individual team members.  

Setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals (as opposed to overarching resolutions) will help you stay focused.  

Leaders should set SMART goals for themselves to improve on skill sets they already have while also creating an actionable plan to grow and succeed. By focusing on the goals you set, you are less likely to become distracted. After all, the mere act of creating a measurable and time-bound plan enables you to form a concrete idea for the upcoming month, quarter, or year (whatever time frame you choose to align to your goals). 

Once you set your own goals as a leader, you become accountable for meeting them. 

You can then move on to working with each of your team members to set theirs. If they see you setting SMART goals (some of which you might even choose to share with your team), they are more likely to buy into the importance of setting goals for themselves. 

SMART goals also help increase employee engagement. Goal setting is an easy way to keep employees motivated, while not having specific goals to aim for can lead to lower morale, lower productivity, and lower job satisfaction. 

In addition to individual goals, you might also want to consider team goals to keep everyone’s eyes on the prize. 

However, once you have agreed on the SMART goals for your team members and for the team as a whole, one of the biggest mistakes you can then make as a leader is shifting the goalposts.  

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the most common reasons employees give for leaving an organisation (right up there with a toxic work environment and low salary) is that their goals kept changing without any real justification. 

Your team members just want to know exactly what their goals are so they can do their best to achieve them. That’s why ensuring the goals are SMART is so important. 

When leaders and team members set SMART goals together, it’s better for everyone.

Besides, your team members will feel more invested in their contribution and the ultimate impact that they can make on the organisation’s success.  

If you want to be the best leader you can be, you can’t afford to neglect setting SMART goals.

And whilst it might be too late to wish people a happy new year, or to set your new year’s resolutions (if you’re still inclined to do so after reading this post), it isn’t too late to establish your own and your team’s SMART goals for the calendar year ahead. 

If you are a people leader, setting SMART goals will help provide you with a sense of direction and focus. Goal setting ensures you are focused on what’s most important. It not only helps you achieve your objectives, but it will enhance your performance as a leader … something that a new year’s resolution is less likely to do. 

Without SMART goals to stretch you as a leader, 2023 will be exactly the same as 2022. 

One final tip: Document your SMART goals. Putting them down on paper helps them crystallize. But don’t forget to reward yourself for your progress! 

Remember hellomonday provides coaching and support to every leader, prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained change, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, and ideally helping leaders prioritize their own goals, as well as the goals of their team members. 

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