When you’re an individual contributor, goal-setting is fairly concrete.
For example, if a salesperson isn’t making sales, you can diagnose when and why they’re losing prospects. And you can set goals based on the skills needed to avoid those losses.
For managers, goal-setting is a bit more abstract.
Incompetent managers exceed sales goals all the time. And many managers easily rationalize bad feedback from an employee to protect their egos. With no single black and white metric that determines a manager’s competency, honest self-evaluation is critical.
So before we list out ideas for professional development goals, you need to know about growth vs. fixed mindsets.
(If you already know the lowdown on a growth vs. fixed mindset, trust me, it’s worth reviewing.)
The idea of fixed vs. growth mindsets comes from Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s work, which she synthesized in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Here’s the gist of it:
People with a fixed mindset believe their character, intelligence and creativity are static, inherent characteristics. Critically, they believe they can’t change these characteristics in any meaningful way. People with fixed mindsets interpret successes and failures as affirmations of their assumptions about their inherent characteristics.
When they fail a math test, for example, it’s because they’re just not that good at math, not because they didn’t study. Thus, studying harder (or in a different way), in their minds, is a hapless pursuit.
This avoidance causes people with fixed mindsets to seek to avoid putting themselves in situations where they might fail. As you’d expect, this hampers learning. They’re just not that good at math, the logic goes, so why try? Better to focus on something they’re good at.
People with a growth mindset believe their character, intelligence and creativity can be developed. They interpret success and failures as indicators of their current, mutable abilities at a given point in time.
What makes the growth mindset so successful is that it creates enthusiasm for learning. People with growth mindsets aren’t discouraged by failures because they don’t interpret those failures as personal shortcomings. They see failure as a natural, expected part of the learning process.
For managers, a growth mindset is paramount. Without it, it’s impossible to conduct an honest self-evaluation to determine the best goals to set for your managerial development.
Keep this in mind as you read through the goals listed below.
A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be."
—Rosalynn Carter, American Writer and Activist
As a manager, your job is to form strategy, plan, coach, motivate, mentor, delegate, build consensus, and facilitate. That’s a lot. But you can place the skills you need to work on to improve at these tasks in two essential buckets: communication and strategic thinking.
With that in mind, here are 5 examples of great professional development goals for a manager:
Speaking in front of multiple people to persuade, motivate, and explain comes with the management territory. And it’s not just about formal speeches you can prepare for. You also have to be comfortable enough speaking in public that you can think on your feet too.
For extra practice, you can find a Toastmasters club where you can work on a variety of public speaking skills. Or, form your own group within your company to deliver talks and provide feedback to each other.
In Slido’s 2021 Meetings Trend Report, 54% of workers believe their manager needs to get better at facilitating meetings. So consider making your ability to facilitate group meetings and one-on-one’s a priority.
Things to work on:
And don’t underestimate the power of one on ones. These meetings provide a unique opportunity to build trust and connect with your direct reports.
The best managers know how to use their communication skills to pull the right levers to secure buy-in from their team or their bosses.
To win the support of Saudi Arabian citizens during the Gulf War, Lieutenant General William Pagonis said he constantly asked himself: “What do the other people on our team need? Why do they think they need it, and how can we give it to them?”
For many new managers, the biggest challenge is letting go of control. But effective delegation is often the most significant direct impact a manager can have on their team’s productivity.
A good place to anchor your thinking about delegation is with the concept of Task Relevant Maturity (TRM). TRM is a concept from former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, that he explains in his book, High Output Management:
How often you monitor should not be based on what you believe your subordinate can do in general, but on his experience with a specific task and his prior performance with it – his task relevant maturity… as the subordinate’s work improves over time, you should respond with a corresponding reduction in the intensity of the monitoring.
According to Gallup’s research, people who get the opportunity to continually develop are two times more likely than those who don’t to say they’ll spend their career with their company.
So the better you are as a coach, the more engaged and loyal your employees will be.
A good way to start thinking about coaching is to borrow the 2X2 matrix, which management experts Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scoular present in their HBR article.
They explain that one axis shows the info a coach puts into the relationship; the other shows the energy that a coach pulls out by unlocking that person’s insights.
You can also learn about how to keep coaching meetings positive in our post on coaching at work.
As a bonus, here are four great personal development goals for managers that’ll help you acquire knowledge and improve your mental health. (Which will also make you a better manager.)
Many successful people read, so why not follow their example? A few classic books to start with:
When you’re a manager, there will almost always be more work. But even you need a break. If setting (personal or work) boundaries is an issue for you, check out these free online resources:
The emotional benefits of meditation the Mayo Clinic cites are invaluable for a manager. Benefits include:
To get started, try an app like Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer.
You have more power and influence as a manager than you might think. In one McKinsey analysis, relationships with management were the top factor in employees’ job satisfaction and the second most important factor in employees’ overall well-being.
So use your power wisely and keep learning. You owe it to your team and yourself to continue developing personally and professionally.
How to set personal and professional SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
Take time to create specific, relevant meeting goals, and set your team up for success.