The ultimate goal setting worksheet

A New Year really feels like a fresh start, even if it’s really just the beginning of a calendar year. Let’s take some time to start 2018 strong by working through effective goal setting together.

Why set goals? A well-defined goal gives us focus and direction so that we can achieve results. Without that level of focus our goals are only dreams the imagine-ifs, what-ifs, wouldn’t it be nice-ifs that seldom happen. NFL coaches don’t have their players just wander onto the field for each game; they spend hours working out plays, strategy, and training. Think how much more productive and effective you can be if you put that kind of attention and planning into what you want to do in your life!

What’s interesting is that research into goal setting in the workplace shows that people are actually more likely to perform better if they have input into their goals (and financial incentives aren’t as big a motivator as giving employees some autonomy to set goals they care about!). Perhaps the best-known example of this in practice is the success Google has had allowing employees to use 20 percent of their work time to pursue a work-related goal (The New York Times and others have termed this The Google Way).

Having a plan makes sense. Setting goals gives shape to our days, weeks, and months so that we stay focused and on task. You can track your progress, refine the process if necessary, and feel the satisfaction of moving forward (it’s very motivating to draw closer to the finish line, confident you’ve achieved milestones along the way!).

I recommend you take at least an hour of uninterrupted time (it’s possible if you turn off your notifications on your cell phone and email!) for your 2018 goal setting. If you can’t carve out that much time in one block, tackle each step in 15-minute blocks.

You can use a blank notebook or download our customized goal setting worksheet here.

Here’s how to work through setting the right kind of goal:

Step One: Clearly define your goal

For goal setting to be effective, we need to set realistic goals that are specific, actionable, and measurable. Goals that are too broad or too difficult can be discouraging (and are likely to fail). Conversely, goals that are too simple may not be motivating and can fizzle out as enthusiasm wanes. Like Goldilocks, we need to find the goal that is just right.

Additionally, we’re all more motivated to work towards goals that really matter to us. Think about “a bigger than average thing” you want to accomplish as a personal or professional goal. What will change when you achieve this goal? How will achieving this goal affect your life? Why does it matter to you? It may be helpful to quickly create a personal vision statement to help align your life goals with what matters the most to you.

You should be able to define your goal in a few sentences. Once you’ve written it down, we’ll move through the next steps to figure out how you’ll work toward it and what might block you, how you’ll measure the success, and give yourself a deadline or completion date.

Step Two: Explore your obstacles

It would be wonderful if goals unfolded as planned once we write them down, but that’s not the case. Start a list of everything you think could stop you from achieving this goal. Just make a big list. Think about problems honestly and list internal and external barriers that you might encounter. Remember, this plan, and this step in particular, is just for you, no one else needs to see it. Be brutally honest with yourself. If you’re using our worksheet, list them all under the “IF” column.

Working through potential obstacles gives you the opportunity to figure out ways to deal with problems or complications as they arise. Thinking in terms of “if” this happens, “then” I will take this action is empowering and will help ensure your goal is not derailed by obstacles along the way. Being prepared to deal with the unexpected allows you to regroup, adjust, and tackle the issue without giving up. Take some time to now write your “THEN” column – if that happens, then you will do this. You don’t have to write full solutions, but perhaps just how you will find the solution. IF “I get bored or distracted with the details,” THEN “I will call Jill B. Friendly to brainstorm ideas because she’s been through something similar.”

Step Three: Refine your goal

Striking the balance between short-term and long-term goals is tricky, and after we’ve considered barriers or obstacles that original goal might need to be tweaked.

Sometimes as you start working through your goal on paper, you may discover what you’ve set out initially isn’t quite right – and that’s okay. Maybe you realize it’s not big enough. Or, it’s too big and could be two goals. Goal setting isn’t a result in itself, it’s about figuring out the results you want, so what you write isn’t set in stone rethink it, rewrite it, take some time to reflect. When you do you’ll feel more confident in your goals.

Step Four: Make it S.M.A.R.T.

You can take any goal, and make it SMART. This process helps to give your ideas more purpose and direction by giving you some criteria as a framework to help you achieve your goals. Answering these questions honestly can help you to refine your goal so that it is something you can realistically accomplish. Essentially you want to ensure that your goal is:

Specific – Does your goal set out exactly what you want to achieve, including who is responsible and what supports can be leveraged?

Measurable – How will you know when you achieve your goal? You should be able to define how many, how much, or how often to give your goal some metrics.

Achievable – What makes this achievable? This is where you can review your IF…THEN obstacles list. Is it likely that you can achieve this goal given the supports and resources available to you? If it’s not achievable, rewrite the goal to be achievable OR review your IF…THEN list and add in the obstacle that makes it unachievable, and see if you can find a “THEN” to address that obstacle.

Relevant – How important is this goal to you personally or to your work and why does it matter? What difference will this goal make in your life? Write that stuff down – when it feels tough to reach your goal, rereading the relevance might get you back on track.

Timely – What is your target to complete this goal? Is it realistic to achieve? (Remember that while a stretch goal can be motivating, if the time frame is too challenging it can be demotivating and if the time frame is too far out, you’ll lose momentum.)

Here’s an example:

S – write a TED talk

M – have a well written and edited talk of 5 – 12 minutes in length that has been peer-reviewed by at least two other people.

A – use my expertise, experience, and reference three recent studies to support my theory

R – so many people ask me about this subject I can offer insight to help others and feel I have contributed to bettering my community while also gaining visibility!

T – rough draft in two months; final draft in three

Step Five: Break it down and make your action plan

Taking any goal and breaking it down into steps is valuable. A big goal can be daunting and overwhelming, but manageable steps are easy to start. Working your way through milestones is a great way to feel accomplished and keep you motivated.

Consider your timeframe and work through what you need to accomplish. Depending on your goal you may want to set weekly, monthly, or quarterly milestones. Go with your intuition for what feels challenging enough to get your adrenaline going but not so tight that you’re already thinking you can’t do it!

In our example we might have:

  1. Pull together research on the topic from X Book,, and my own notes.
  2. Write an outline of my talk – the core idea, the main message, two to three anecdotes or stories, two to three pieces of evidence, the hook, and call to action.
  3. Draft first draft based on outline – not based on time.
  4. Review draft for general direction – have I made the case?
  5. Edit draft based on timing – what’s not necessary?
  6. Review draft for clarity and general direction. Am I still making the case?
  7. Send draft to two to three peers for input.
  8. Consider feedback and edit as necessary.
  9. Etcetera

Be sure to go through the plan and add some timelines and, if others are involved, be clear about who has to deliver what, and when.


Why you need to set your goals for 2018

If you really want to accomplish things in 2018, forget the resolutions about things you don’t really want to do and take a run at setting some really good goals around things you do!

Before the holidays we talked about the value of creating a personal vision statement for your life. Going through this process is a great way to figure out which big goals (at work and/or in your personal life) really matter to you.

Now, I’ve always been a list-making, get-things-done kind of guy. And while I’ve always prided myself on being a big thinker with lots of ideas and vision, my lists often focus on tasks that need to be done today or during this week and not the bigger ideas or goals.

It’s easy to get swept into the rhythm of daily life to the point that we’re dealing with immediacy and not really thinking long term or big picture. It can be satisfying to finish a bunch of stuff, but are you achieving your vision?

If we can focus on breaking down the big audacious goals into measured tasks, we can stay on track to achieve them. As we discussed at the end of last year, once we master daily tasks, we can achieve big goals. This really works!

In the midst of all the hard work of launching and then, for the last couple years, running Padraig Coaching & Consulting, I wanted to be able to reach people who would benefit from our help, but who aren’t able to afford our one-to-one coaching or leadership workshops.

I talked about my ideas for a long time.  Sometimes with myself, sometimes with other people — thinking if I talk about it, I’ll have to get it done. That didn’t work.  I knew in my mind where I wanted us to be, but I wasn’t taking time to figure out the steps to get there.  It took effort and creative scheduling at times, but I was able to carve out time to figure out what to do and start executing the steps to get things underway.

I’m happy to report that now, just after celebrating the fifth anniversary of my business, we’re in the process of creating online courses to bring leadership skills to more people.

It’s been exhilarating to figure out that sometimes what seems urgent isn’t really important and to be so close to achieving something that really matters to me.

Are you feeling inspired to figure out some BIG goals for 2018?

Why goal setting is important

Author Lewis Carroll (he of the Cheshire cat and Alice in Wonderland), is credited for the saying: “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” While we can meander and enjoy the view or even enjoy the journey, we might also never make it to the destinations that really matter.

If your goal is to enjoy the journey (and hey, that’s a laudable goal too) then perhaps a well-drawn map isn’t needed. But, if at least part of your goal is to get to a specific destination or two, then it helps to have a roadmap to guide the adventure – a little strategy to make sure we aren’t lost and adrift.

Writing down goals makes them a priority. Seeing goals or dreams written out actually increases the odds that we’ll accomplish them. According to psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, people are 42 percent more likely to do things they put in writing!

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Antoine de Saint-Exuperay

Why goal setting has a bad rap

I think many of us have negative associations with goal setting because we treat planning and goal setting like it’s an end in itself. Then at the end of the year, we look at that list of goals or resolutions and wonder why we didn’t accomplish as much as we wanted.

When goal setting becomes a negative enforcer it’s pretty difficult to get excited about embarking on change. We’ve seen too many times how we set goals we never achieve, even if we try again every year.

How can this year be different?

If you change the dynamic, the way you interact will change. Rather than announcing some nebulous, albeit glorious business and career goals or listing big life changes to implement, it’s time to get specific.

The first thing you need to do after brainstorming is write out your goals. Prioritize them, and make sure they’re achievable.

For example, solving the homeless problem is pretty broad. Planning to volunteer with your coworkers at a shelter is something tangible. The more specific you are with goal setting, the more achievable the goals will likely be.

Second, do a little planning. Figure out how to conquer your goal in steps and stages. Instead of running headlong to hopefully achieving something, we need to make a plan to navigate the way there.

Mapping out the route will get you to any destination efficiently! Plus, having a plan to execute makes us more accountable. Dedicating time out of your week towards achieving a step toward the goal will help ensure the weeks don’t slip by!

Third, as you undertake the manageable tasks, track your progress. It is very motivating; achieving milestones along the way propels us forward. It takes us back to scratching things off our list. If our weekly or daily lists include one item from our big goal plan, we feel victorious AND we make progress on the important things.

We’re more likely to be successful if we set goals that are measurable, with deliverables or clearly defined steps to keep us actively working and moving forward. You might even want to let others know what you’re up to because feeling accountable to others can be another wonderful motivator.

As with life, another thing that is essential is the right attitude. Seeking perfection often prevents progress. Wooo boy, do I know that, and yet how often do I momentarily forget it.

One of the big solutions is… GET STARTED. It’s difficult to get things absolutely right, but if we get started we can always improve the finished product later because, at least, the product will be finished.  Right?

And finally, each time you set out to make a to-do list, whether that’s daily or weekly, take a moment to look at your big goals and consider what you’ve accomplished and what remains.

Figure out what’s next, today, to get things done.

When you can accomplish a series of short-term goals you’ll feel inspired to persevere for the long-term (and it might not seem too long or impossible when it’s broken down!).

So my Coach’s Question for you today, as we start 2018:

What will life look like at the end of the year if you achieve your big audacious goals?

End of year wrap up and reflection

Realizing this is our last blog of 2017 got me reflecting on what I’ve learned this year.

The list was too long to do justice to it, but one thing that stood out to me was how we learned through our work coaching successful executives that self-talk can really have an impact — not only on you but on your leadership with others.

What we learned inspired our blog when your toughest conversations are with yourself.

My thinking on this has been galvanized even more after reading an article in Psychology Today that explores the impact of adults comparing ourselves to others in the age of social media.

We’ve heard news reports of how teens can be negatively affected by social media, but they aren’t the only ones who are gauging life success by the number of likes, followers, and interactions on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, even as professionals. (And we know that teens aren’t typically watching LinkedIn for news of promotions or who has which connections!)

There is some hope, however, in that researchers report we care less about social comparisons the older we get. In my experience, without conscious effort, it doesn’t start noticeably diminishing until we’re closer to retirement.  My hope is that we can make that conscious effort start earlier.

As we enter the holiday season, how many of us will be watching year-in-review posts listing the accomplishments of friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter? It’s really hard not to feel a little green with envy about beautiful vacation photos or accolades for achievements and successes.

It can feel gratifying when our peers celebrate our successes, but it can also sting if people we hope will support us don’t comment or engage.

Now, let’s be clear, sometimes competition is healthy. Seeing someone else achieve great things might be motivating to try a little harder – maybe even amp up our drive to cross that finish line, too.

Or, we might feel inspired to try something new or take some risks if we realize others have achieved great things.

The problem is that the negative feelings can sometimes fan the flames of unhelpful self-talk, even among the most successful people. That 24/7 ability to compare ourselves to others thanks to social media can also chip away at self-esteem, particularly if we’ve got a bit of holiday time to be more self-reflective instead of living in a constant state of urgency like the rest of the year.  

All this inspired us to consider implementing several strategies to avoid the trap of constant comparison, taking what we’ve learned in 2017 to give us a strong start for 2018:

Cultivate relationships and connect authentically

It’s so easy to scan through posts aimlessly, sort of like wandering through an online version of a great hall filled with people. I know I’m not the only one to quickly check Facebook only to suddenly find an hour has gone by!

Psychologists recommend using social media with purpose, using it as a tool to connect with people to have meaningful dialogue. So instead of liking 15 posts that show up in my feed, I’ll seek out a few people I want to build relationships with and send a private message to check in or post a supportive comment.

Watch your time and set limits for how long you’ll spend so you don’t get sucked into the void.

Follow what (or who) inspires you

Use social media to find people who will mentor you or provide inspiration. Remember that idea of healthy competition? The experts call it upward comparison, but essentially having someone who outpaces you a little or someone you really admire, to engage with might help you push for better results, too.

This doesn’t mean you have to friend your boss, but you might want to connect with someone a little further or higher in their career than you. Following how they achieve results or seeing what articles inspire them may give you an edge in what you do.

Spend your time online reading articles that will give you strategies to improve yourself or push you to consider new ways to consider your career (like writing your own retirement speech today).

Set a goal

This is the time of year that everyone starts talking about New Year’s Resolutions. People will start thinking about what they’d like to do better, or what they hope to do personally and professionally in the year ahead.

Two of the best things you can do to make a change is to set smaller goals that lead to that change and commit to a deadline for each small goal.  Goal setting and goal management is something we’re going to delve into with our topics in January.

Some of the things we’ve focused on during 2017 may help get you started on brainstorming some New Year’s Resolutions you can stick to! We considered the wisdom of creating a personal vision statement and being mindful (instead of MINDFULL). Check in with us in January to stay motivated to be your best self for 2018.

Find your gratitude

Having a positive mindset can help us to sidestep the trap of comparing ourselves to others.

Did your parents or grandparents ever tell you that you may not have all you want, but you have what you need? It’s so easy for us to get bogged down in comparing ourselves to people who we feel are more successful (upward social comparison), but considering how good we have things compared to others (downward social comparison) reframes everything.

I also recommend finding ways to serve others in your community with your time and talent, not just monetarily. Writing a cheque doesn’t give you quite the same sense of community awareness and involvement as organizing a charity fundraiser that helps people in need, volunteering with a non-profit, or simply dropping off a meal to a family in crisis.

Acts of service generate goodwill in all directions and a change in perspective is a great way to check yourself before you fall into negative comparisons.

Be your best self

According to researchers, the older people are the more likely they are to judge themselves against their past rather than against other people.

We need to learn from the wisdom of our elders and others who strive to beat their own personal bests.

Internal evaluation would be considering how you’ve improved based on your own track record rather than some external measurement. So if you’ve mastered giving a speech without stage fright and nausea for the first time, rejoice!

If you’ve pulled off some great sprints at work and achieved results that previously eluded you, celebrate! And then consider how you’ll take what you’ve learned to leverage even more success going forward.

Acknowledge your admiration of others

The next time you see that someone has done something notable, take a minute to leave a thoughtful comment or send a private email of congratulation.

When you take the time to praise others for their successes and acknowledge what you admire about them or their work, it’s amazing what you learn about them and their effort.

Expressing how you’re happy for someone is a great way to keep feelings of envy at bay. Not only does it generate goodwill, it’s a great way to build a rapport with someone (you might end up with a mentor!).

And you know what they say: You’re the average of the five people closest to you, so it can’t hurt to start bonding with folks you admire!


How aware are you when you’re comparing yourself unfavorably to others? Which of our suggestions do you commit to trying? How are you going to remind yourself?

Create a personal vision statement for your career

I think we’ve all had moments where we feel so overwhelmed by tasks and demands that we wonder what we’re doing. Or so stretched by the day-to-day firefighting that we feel hopelessly trapped on an endless treadmill.

As we’ve discussed before, busyness has become an epidemic of our time.

So how do we figure out the answers to the big questions in life about why we’re here, what we’re doing, and where we want to be? It’s so easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of every day and lose sight of what we want out of life.

Just like big corporations, we as individuals need to take some time to really think about our purpose and reason for being.

Crafting a personal vision statement is one approach that can help you rediscover your passions and ignite your desires, aligning your day to day with your life goals and with what really matters to you.

Let’s go through how we can quite easily bring this kind of success from the corporate world to your own life, both personally and professionally.  

What is a personal vision statement?

Writing a personal vision statement is making a commitment to live your life in a certain way, drawing from the myriad complexities that make you who you are – like your relationships, belief systems and values, health, well-being, and personality.

It keeps you aligned and helps prevent waking up some Monday morning and thinking, “how did I end up here?”

A personal vision statement is going to be a combination of what you care about and what motivates you, serving as a guide for you as you proceed through your career.

Now, when we’re looking at goal setting, I don’t want you to get a personal vision statement confused with a mission statement. They’re complementary, but different.

A vision statement is focused on where you want to be in the future, whereas a mission statement centres around what you’re doing now that has value and what you aim to achieve.

In other words, a vision statement is more of a guiding principle or philosophy for life while a mission statement defines how you’ll accomplish goals grounded in the present.

When we create a personal vision statement we’re looking big picture and long-term.

Why you need one

I like to think of a personal vision statement like having a compass to navigate through our personal and professional journey.

First, a well-crafted personal vision statement is going to give you direction for every turn and bump in the road. You can use it to evaluate whether decisions align with your values and aspirations, or if options play to your strengths or weaknesses.

It can help you discern whether you’re drifting off course or getting pushed away from where you want to end up. Imagine using it when a new job opportunity comes up – it can help you think big picture and consider the finer details of the offer, not just the title or the salary.

Second, when you can orient yourself no matter what surprises or obstacles you encounter, you can proceed with a feeling of purpose – be that to achieve personal milestones or the greater good. This, in turn, helps us find meaning in what we do and a sense of fulfillment.

Imagine for a moment losing your job. A terrible, upsetting prospect for most of us, but with a clear vision of where you want to be, you’ll be focused on what you need and what you have to offer to get back on track quicker than most.

And third, a personal vision statement pushes our focus from the immediate and short-term to the future in the long-term. It’s making the switch from figuring out how to deal with that one employee today to figuring out what kind of leader you want to be. Perspective, as they say, is everything.

A personal vision statement keeps us on track. After all, every journey is easier when you know where you’re headed and why.

How to craft your own statement

Choose a quiet time to reflect that is free from distractions and demands (turn off your cell phone!). It’s great if you can set aside an uninterrupted hour to work through this process but if that’s impossible then set aside 15 minutes to work through each step.

Get ready to examine your deepest thoughts and feelings.

Step 1

Grab a blank notebook or some loose sheets or download our worksheet to help you craft the perfect personal vision statement.

Get your free worksheet here.

How you brainstorm is up to you; some of us do well with lists and others get more creative with doodles.

I want you to be brutally honest and really reflect on what matters to you. Note any common themes that emerge as you undertake this process of reflection or what really resonates with you in this moment. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

Consider the various aspects of your life: personal, professional, spiritual, social. What comes to your mind? What is most important to you? What makes you happy? What makes you feel fulfilled in life?

Examine your strengths and weaknesses. What do you do well? What do you find challenging? What do others notice about you that is admirable and what have you heard needs improving?

Describe your values, hopes, and dreams. What belief systems are the scaffolding to your personal and professional life? What ideals do you admire? Jot down any wishes or ambitions that come to mind.

Step 2

Now I want you to shift gears a little bit to delve into what motivates you. Consider your life from every angle and think about what gets you excited about life and what moves you into action.

Remember, you’re writing this only for yourself so be really honest. Inspiration could be:

  • Changing something in the world
  • Financial gain
  • Rewards
  • Achievement-based
  • Educational (formal or informal)
  • Helping others
  • Public recognition, accolades, or fame

Step 3

The next step is to think about your future. Take time to ponder these big questions to help you think about yourself in the years to come:

  • What would you try if you didn’t have to risk money or your pride?
  • If you won a lottery and could finance anything you have ever dreamed of doing, what would you do in life?
  • If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would be your biggest regrets?
  • If people were to talk about the legacy you’ve left, what would you like them to say? Could they say this now? If not, what needs to happen?

Step 4

Think about everything you’ve brainstormed about yourself in the last three steps. Review your notes and highlight what strikes you as the most important points.

Now, try writing a personal vision statement that draws from this work.

Write in the first person (this is your personal statement it’s about you!) and focus on the future.

Write with optimism and confidence, using the active voice that you will achieve (not that you hope to!).

Some people give themselves a word limit, but I suggest you write first and then edit it down for brevity. You want to keep it long enough that articulates what inspires you and what you aspire to be, but brief enough that it’s memorable.

Ideally, you want to have a statement comprised of a few sentences that you can memorize as your visionary goal of your future.

We’ve listed some examples below.

Step 5

Read it over. Post it on your wall and see how it feels.

This is your personal vision statement so you can refine or finesse it as you choose. It may be worth reassessing every six months to a year because sometimes we change course a little.

But you may also discover that your statement is very fitting through many seasons.

Personal vision statement examples

What you write is up to you. This is your statement about your future and what matters to you. Here are some examples to get you thinking:

My vision is to share my knowledge and passion for human resources through work and volunteering to create a more inclusive world. I will lead by example and inspire a love of diversity in those I work with and my children.

I will not forget to treat people well as I gain success because I want to be a leader who encourages respect and values input from all levels. I will strive to find joy and use design to create social change.

My vision is to be a lawyer of honour and integrity who shares these values with others while continuing to grow through ongoing education, pro bono work, and mentoring students.

Click here for your free worksheet.

Our five favourite employee retention strategies

Do you want to keep your best employees?

You might think money, vacation time, health benefits are things that keep people working hard.

In a few cases, that might be true, but more often than not, those financial benefits rank low on why we stay in a job.

Think back over your career, the jobs you’ve had that you loved — the ones where you really enjoyed yourself, you dove into the work, you thrived.

Now think about what was great.

Chances are you aren’t thinking about your retirement savings plan, you aren’t remembering the amount of your biweekly deposit or the coverage you had for your eyeglasses.

You’re probably thinking about the work you got to do, the manager you had, the colleagues, and the opportunities.

If you want your best employees to stay with you (and they’re the ones most likely not coming to work for the money) then here are the top five retention strategies to help you keep your rock stars happy and productive.

People need to be seen, heard and understood.

This is a mantra for us as executive coaches, and if you memorize this alone, it will take you a long way as a leader too.

People want to be seen and to know that the boss is aware of them and the work they’re doing.

But more so, they want to be heard. They want to be asked for their input and to know that their opinion is listened to with interest.

And most of all, they want to be understood — that is, to be listened to without judgment, to feel validated in their dreams, aspirations, their fears, and their motivators.

People want meaning and purpose in their work.

I hear a lot of leaders say that the folks working for them don’t get the big picture. They’re focused on their day-to-day tasks without thinking about how to achieve the bigger vision.

This is, in large part, a leadership failing. It’s our job as leaders to help people see how their work translates into achieving the bigger picture — to paint the picture for them in such a way that they see their own importance.

People need to feel safe at work.

I’m not talking about a health and safety program (although that’s important too) — what I’m talking about here is that they need confidence boosters from you.

They need emotionally intelligent leaders who listen, encourage, praise and support their growth. They want leaders who give them hope and, of course, they need to be free of bullying and coercion.

They want you to show them that their values are accepted and part of them.|

People want to know what’s happening in the organization.

Gallup research does a massive annual survey around the world about worker engagement. The second most common problem cited by employees about leadership is a lack of communication.

A sense of hiding information, failing to share information or wielding information as a source of power leads to confusion, fear, mistrust and all sorts of dysfunction.

Good employees are always the first to leave uncertainty.

People need feedback.

No, the archaic annual performance review is not enough.

People need rich feedback, as soon as possible in the moment.

This includes positive feedback about what they’re doing well and constructive feedback on where they can improve.

We offer a number of leadership workshops that touch on communicating with staff and peers and specifically giving feedback. Participants tell us one of the most frightening exercises we do is asking them to give feedback to a colleague, face to face, right now.

But interestingly, they also tell us that:

  1. It was way easier than they thought;
  2. The other person appreciated the insight;
  3. It’s harder to give feedback than to receive it — so holding back is supporting you, not them, and
  4. They look forward to trying it again — knowing it gets easier, and more effective, each time they try.

Coach’s Questions:

If you were to tell us who your best employees are today, and five years from now we asked them what jobs they loved the most over their careers, would the one they’re doing today be on the list? Would they still be with you?

What are you willing to start this week, to ensure it is and to ensure they are?

How to deal with difficult employees

I came across this great infographic the other day and it got me thinking about the steps to deal with difficult employees.

There are a few things that I’ve learned over time when issues crop up around communication and difficult people in the workplace:

  1. It’s often not isolated to one person or one issue;
  2. Band-aid solutions, or worse, “hoping it will go away,” are used more often than not and rarely solve the problem, and
  3. In most cases, the problem can be resolved.

Here are 9 steps to take when you’re dealing with  difficult employees (From’s infographic with a Padraig spin):

1. Get to the root cause (the key person)

This can be tough but often when an issue surfaces in the organization, the person who initiated it isn’t necessarily the person that is vocal about it or creating the turbulence.

Ask some team members who you are usually open and forthcoming with, to shed some light and figure where the discussion/issue/problem starts.

2. Maintain your distance

It’s easy to get caught up in the drama or to even contribute to the negativity. Do your best to stay objective and solutions focused. You have an opportunity to lead by example and keep your cool. You’ll earn respect AND have a better chance of truly solving the issue.

3. Be a fly on the wall

It can be tempting to jump in and referee a situation but sometimes you can learn a lot by sitting back and observing what is actually unfolding. How are frustrations being expressed? Is there any resolution happening on its own? Write down your observations and brainstorm solutions for each area of drama.

4. Get to the root cause (the key issue)

Now that you know who is involved and have made some observations about how they act out – see if you can figure out exactly what it is that is bothering them. How are they seeing the world? What is it that’s bothering them that perhaps isn’t an obvious problem to you or others?

5. Solicit input

Of course, you don’t want to contribute to gossip or speculation but if you’re able to subtly get a sense of the issue from other perspectives – mentors, peers, other members of the team, it can be helpful. Do your best to see the issue from as many angles as possible.

6. Decide if you need to take action

Sometimes the difficulty is circumstantial or fleeting and there are instances where issues unravel on their own. Perhaps even the disruptor is helping in the long term?  If you decide you do need to take action – double check that you’re the right person to address the issue and then think through how you want to start this essential conversation.

7. Talk to the difficult person

I called this step “talk to the difficult person,” but this step is ALLLL about listening. Without making assumptions, talk to the person and really hear their perspective. Check out this article on how important silence is in conversations.

8. Collaborate

There is an opportunity to work together to resolve the issue. If the other person understands your concerns, brainstorm solutions together and get their buy-in to solve the issue. Remember to show your willingness to work together.

9. Check in regularly

Change may not happen overnight and it may take multiple check-ins to encourage a change in behavior. Continue to show your support and to take the steps you agreed to take on your end.

Coach’s Questions:

Which “problem employee” are you tiptoeing around, or hoping they’ll change their ways? Given the suggestions above, what can you do this week, to start to improve the situation? How can you avoid escalation of issues with difficult team members?



Why you should write your own retirement speech TODAY

My 13-year-old nephew, when he was a bit younger, was famous for asking interesting, open-ended questions. Perhaps he’ll be a great coach, one day!

One of those questions that stuck with me was, “Uncle Patrick, if you could have any superpower, what would it be?”

My answer was that I’d like the power to go back in time. When he asked why, I said, “because there are things I know now, that I wish I’d known then…”

Since no one I know has that superpower, I was thinking about the question from a different angle and wondered, “if, right now, you could write your own retirement speech, what would it say?”

Imagine you were to sit down today and write out a page or two, talking about the career you’ve had (and the one you’re still having), and that page or two would be read to everyone by your colleague or boss when you retire — whether that’s a year from now, five years, 10 years or even 25 years from now.

What would you want it to say?

Most of us hope that speech will be kind and generous, but more so, personal. That it will be easy for the speaker to talk about the contributions you’ve made and the legacy you’re leaving. That it will be easy for them to enumerate our strengths and how we contributed those strengths to some sort of success.

But what do you want those strengths to be, and what success do you want spoken about?

What will they say about the kind of leader you were? The kind of colleague? The kind of peer? 

What will they say when they speak about what you stood for? Do you want them to describe how you challenged others to be successful? Or perhaps how you always made others feel appreciated. Do they speak of your attention to detail, or perhaps your bold honesty?

When they talk about how you improved yourself over the years, what would you want them to say?

Writing this part of the speech is important to help us identify what we might like to change, and to accept the changes we’ve made.

For example, in my own speech, I’d like them to say, “With good work and determination, he rose rapidly in his career in government. That brought with it a shift — Patrick began striving for perfection, he wanted no criticism, he needed to prove he was worthy and capable of the roles and titles he was given.

That pressure took its toll on him, and those around him for a number of years until in his 40s, he shifted gears. He went back to school, became a certified executive coach. He describes that time as finding himself, again.

He launched Padraig, dove into coaching and became more understanding, more supportive, more compassionate –not just with all those who were lucky enough to work with him, but with himself too. It’s probably no coincidence this is when his business really took off.”

When they speak of the one or two great achievements, what would you like them to be?

Perhaps you want them to speak of a particular project or company — what do you want said about how you brought success to the project or company?

Sometimes we focus too much on that one project or that one role. So besides talking about how far or how fast you climbed the ladder and the titles and influence you had, would you like them to speak about the atmosphere you created? The culture you built?

I’ve thrown a lot of questions at you in today’s Coach’s Question blog and hopefully, some of them will help you write your own speech.

When you do, I encourage you to keep it somewhere that you’ll see it occasionally and you can check in — re-read it and ask yourself how you’re doing. Are you on track? What might you need to adjust to live up to your speech?

If you’re feeling bold, I encourage you to read it aloud to a friend or loved one — it helps you commit to it when you read it to someone else.

Coach’s Question:

What’s going to be in your speech? What are you worried might be in your speech? Or, might not?


Mind FULL or Mindful

Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?

David Bader

I’ve recently completed a course in how to be mindful — specifically bringing greater mindfulness to my coaching techniques and also helping clients build greater mindfulness into their day.

I suspect some of you reading this are thinking “mindfulness is just the latest buzzword,” or “sounds too touchy-feely to me.”

I thought that too but, in fact, the idea has been around for centuries in some form or another, and more recently has been recognized in helping business people centre themselves and reduce stress and anxiety, while achieving their goals with greater success.

You might also be thinking mindfulness is meditation — perhaps you’re picturing Buddha, cross-legged, chanting, and smelling incense. In fact mindfulness, includes some components of meditation, some would say it’s a form of meditation, but it’s also more easily accomplished in our busy modern lives.

You could think of mindfulness as awareness. Self-awareness, in particular, and how you’re reacting to and engaging with the world around you. Becoming aware of not just everything around you but also what’s going on inside you and how you are reacting to it.

I’ve always been a pretty skeptical guy — wary of fads and easy fixes. But as I have dived deeper into mindfulness, I’m more and more convinced of its value in the office.

There are a few things I’m sure we can agree are not the best approach to a fulfilling life;

  • flying through our days on autopilot;
  • not living in the moment;
  • focusing on past mistakes and/or future anxieties;
  • reviewing our mental checklists, or
  • worrying about how we’re going to fit it all in.

Not only are these not helpful for achieving a fulfilling life but they often are not even serving our needs in the present moment – or our needs at any time.

Mindfulness is the antidote to the useless but seemingly natural spinning of our minds.

It is a method of calling attention to and observing the “monkey mind,” or the mind that spins without purpose and letting those thoughts go as we would a car passing by.

Stopping, for even a moment, to be truly present can have remarkable ripple effects.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much mindfulness helps me achieve the success and business growth I’m aiming for — you might be surprised how it can help you too.

Here are four ways you can bring greater mindfulness to your days:

Pause for a few moments before you start your day

Depending on when things get going for you, this could be while you sip your cup of coffee at home — savouring the flavour, noticing the steam, the feel of the mug in your hands. Noticing the sounds around you. Feeling your feet on the floor. Just taking a few moments, possibly even with your eyes closed to “notice.”

Or, if you carpool, or ride the bus, try checking in with yourself as you travel — close your eyes, breathe in slowly until your lungs are full, let the breath out slowly until you’re completely out of breath. Do this a few more times, feeling the breath enter and leave. Notice the sounds. Notice the feel of the seat. Notice your body, starting with your feet and moving slowly up to your head — are you sore or stiff anywhere? Are your muscles tense, or relaxed? if your mind wanders, bring it back to noticing your body.

If you don’t take the bus, I don’t recommend trying this in your car until you get to your parking spot! You could also do it when you get to the office, before you start your computer. But, let’s face it — that one is risky — is there a chance someone else barges in, anxious to alert you to the day’s crisis? Perhaps centering yourself for a few moments at home, would be wise.

This doesn’t have to take long, and it doesn’t have to be a full meditation — but take some time to P A U S E and to notice.

Notice how you react to things throughout the day

The next time you have a bad experience at work — a dispute with a colleague, some difficult feedback, a lost sale, make a mental note of how your body reacts. Are your shoulders tense? Have you got a pit in your stomach? Are you clenching your hands or your teeth? Is your face flushed? Has your heart quickened? Has your breathing tightened-up?

Take time to notice how you physically react. Then take a moment to notice how you emotionally or mentally react. What thoughts did you have? Do those thoughts recur? Did your mind continue down a path even after the incident? Jot it down.

Then when something good happens at work — you nail it on a sales call, your boss recognizes your good work, a colleague invites you to lunch — take a moment again and notice your physical reaction. How do you feel? Is the tension gone? Are you smiling more easily? Do you notice any pain or soreness? Do you feel lighter or brighter? What about emotionally and mentally? What’s your outlook like? Are you seeing the world through a happy lens? Are you feeling more empathetic? caring? Do THOSE thoughts recur? Does the feeling linger? Jot it down.

The more you do this, the more you’ll instinctively become aware of how you’re reacting to the world — you’ll become self-aware.

You may then be better able to manage your day — if your colleague Lucille causes you to tense up, you can start to stretch a bit before a meeting, you can notice your physical reactions and let them go — un-tensing your neck while listening to Lucille. If nothing else, you can recognize what has occurred, and do something helpful after your meeting.

Anticipating negative reactions and helping ourselves manage our response, helps us feel much more in control and helps us stay present.

You may notice something else that a lot of us find through mindfulness — we let bad things linger longer than the good things. Mindfulness helps us shift the balance on that.

Practice Non-judgemental stance…

… (of yourself, and of others)

This follows immediately on the last point — we want to observe our reactions, but not beat ourselves up about them. Self-evaluation is good but self-talk that blames and shames isn’t.

When you notice in the previous step that your reaction to something is self-criticism, remind yourself to observe it and then let it go. When you make a mistake – observe it, but don’t judge it. Do the same for the wins — take a moment to observe them — don’t just skip past them. Observe the success. Observe how you’re feeling.

There are several methods for learning to take a non-judgmental stance, but the most fundamental one is to become aware of your judgments.

For many of us, judgments are so ingrained that we don’t even notice them. Observe what thoughts, emotions, and sensations emerge within your experience as you imagine taking off a heavy pair of glasses through which you have viewed your experience. Imagine these glasses having thick, cumbersome, and cloudy lenses that result in a skewed, distorted, and judgmental view of yourself, other people, and events.

Try keeping track for a week of the times you make judgments, noting the date and time, place and specific judgment (it’s highly unlikely you’ll catch all of them, and that’s okay).

Jot them down on the note app on your phone, or in a notebook you carry with you. I’m talking here about things like:

  • When you make a mistake: “Why did I do that? I’m so stupid.”
  • When you’re on the road and somebody cuts you off: “What an idiot!”
  • When you’re at the office: “My boss is such a jerk!” or “This meeting is going to be so boring.”

Once you’re aware of the kinds of judgments you make, you can start to catch yourself making them in the moment, before you have a chance to react. It’s surprising how quickly this change can start to happen. Then you can respond to the situation differently such as taking a few deep breaths and visualizing the judgment floating away.

Visualize Success

One of the few times that mindfulness advocates will recommend stepping out of the present, is to visualize success.

You’ve no doubt heard this term used about elite athletes. Whether a swimmer or hockey player, a rower or a decathlete — all elite athletes learn to visualize success in their sport. Not in a general way but specifically — what will it feel like as they hit the ball? How will the ball travel to the outfield? How will their muscles feel as they pull on the oars? What will they hear? What will they smell? Taste? They train themselves to live in the moment of success. Why? Because visualizing that success translates into delivery on the field or pitch or diving board.

A study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting.

In some cases, research has revealed that mental practices are almost effective as true physical practice, and that doing both is more effective than either alone.

These realities hold true in all aspects of life, including your career and your business. You might start visualizing not responding when someone treats you badly at work (see non-judgement section above!).

Then you might practice visualizing success in a difficult conversation, visualizing being direct and clear in a difficult conversation with an employee, for example.

When I speak at conferences I picture myself stepping onto the podium, I picture the audience in their seats, I picture how I’m going to say things and how the audience is going to react. I picture myself delivering a flawless presentation, full of emotion and excitement, I picture the audience reacting with enthusiasm.

Remember — mindfulness isn’t about perfecting any of these steps and techniques. It’s a process, a journey. Try some of these. If your mind wanders when you meditate at the start of the day, observe that this happened, without judging, then come back to it.

When you’re trying to be non-judgmental and realize you’ve just been critiquing something, or someone, in your head — congratulate yourself for noticing you’re doing it, and let it go. NONE of us are perfect at this, but the more you practice each of these tips, the more success you’re going to see.

Coach’s Question:

What’s holding you back from trying these steps today? What if it works, what could you achieve?

Why you need to master daily tasks to achieve big goals

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big list writer. I always have been.

Perhaps because I’ve always had a pretty bad memory but also because I’m a planner — I need to know how I’m going to get from here to there.

If I don’t have a list, I get overwhelmed by the details — “Yes, I know I need to do that, but first I have to do this, or I can’t forget that, or what if this happens, or that changes? Aaaagghh”

As coaches we’re acutely aware that different people see the world differently. In some cases, folks don’t need a list, or a plan, to feel comfortable.

However, we coach a lot of amazing leaders throughout North America and Asia and we’ve noticed a couple things — effective leaders often have a list to focus them on the bigger picture and to relieve their mind of the daily stuff. We’ve also noticed that no matter the behaviour profile of the leader we’re working with, starting some form of list making often helps them focus on what’s important.

Knowing ahead of time what your most important tasks are is a game-changer.

How many times have you sat down at your desk only to feel like a pinball, completely out of touch with what you should be doing? Or, how often have you finished a day at the office and realized, “aaarrrgghh, I didn’t finish any of the stuff I needed to finish but I was busy all day!”

If you don’t have a plan, other people’s priorities become your plan. You spend your day doing things that feel urgent but may or may be important (which we talked about in detail here).

So what are some of the daily habits and practices that can help you master your daily tasks?

One of the tactics we see helping most often is to clear your desk at the end of each day, review the list of priorities you had for today, cross off what you have achieved and start tomorrow’s list on a new page.

Note: there’s something to be said for paper lists and I always keep a paper list but this can just as easily be done in your favorite task management tools or apps. Here’s a great list of tools if you’re looking for a new one.

Writing out what’s most important at the end of the day helps because you can “leave it behind” when you leave work and because you know it’s there for you, highly visible, first thing the next morning.

So that might be helpful to you, or to someone you’re leading in your organization. But, you might be wondering, are there tips on HOW to write a good list? Glad you asked!

  1. Write each action item as if you were delegating it to someone else. No shorthand. The more shorthand and code you use, the easier it is for you to gloss over it as you read the list tomorrow. Or, if the item gets punted for a few days, or weeks, you’re quite possibly not even going to recognize it later.
  2. Use a verb and a noun in every item. Don’t just write “client proposal” — try “Draft client proposal,” which perhaps leads to “Send client proposal” as the next step.
  3. Break things down as much as possible so that they’re bite-size and actionable, make it easy for you to check things off.

That leads me to the next three tips:

  1. If there is a time deadline, include it in your list “Draft client proposal by noon” and “Send client proposal by end of day;”
  2. Be clear about ownership — if you’re leading a team and you need “somebody” to send the proposal then get specific about who “Assign Chris to send proposal to client by end of day.”It’s so easy as a leader to expect “someone” will take care of something but never assign it to “someone” and be faced with doing it yourself when the best use of your limited time isn’t on personally writing the proposal.
  3. Be clear too about “relay items.” Relay items are things that need to move through the “system” or the team. In our example above, you are drafting the proposal by noon and then “Chris” is sending it out by the end of day. That makes it a relay item — you have to send it to Chris, once it’s drafted, or the system will stop.

    If you’re writing the list only for yourself you can trust yourself to know that. If you’re delegating items from a list, you have to decide if you can trust the team to keep the relay going, or you need to be specific.

  4. Sometimes we have to start specific, with an extra step. If, for example, someone else was writing the proposal I would be clear with them that we need them to “Send the proposal to Chris by 3pm,” eventually dropping that step once you’re confident that it’s understood.

Finally, I find dividing my list into sections, based on bigger goals, helps me focus on why I’m doing the thing I’m doing, and keeps me focused on the big picture, visionary items.

So my list might look like:


❏ Finalize the website layout with the designer

❏ Confirm with editor that the content will be ready for the site by Friday at noon


❏ Schedule time with videographer

❏ Assign script writing to Shirley – to be complete by Friday

❏ Review the software choices and choose one

❏ Talk to Gary about how he created his videos


❏ Send information package to VP of HR

❏ Call David to ask his insight

❏ Schedule lunch with VP and CEO


❏ Write next week’s blog

❏ Mail the insurance cheque

❏ Schedule the dog training

At the end of the day it might look like:


✔︎ Finalize the website layout with the designer

✔︎ Confirm with editor that the content will be ready for the site by Friday at noon


✔︎ Schedule time with videographer

✔︎ Assign script writing to Shirley – to be complete by Friday

❏ Review the software choices and choose one

✔︎ Talk to Gary about how he created his videos


✔︎ Send information package to VP of HR

✔︎ Call David to ask his insight

❏ Schedule lunch with VP and CEO


❏ Write next week’s blog

✔︎ Mail the insurance cheque

✔︎ Schedule the dog training

So I would then write a new list for tomorrow:


❏ Review the beta draft of the website and send notes to editor

❏ Finalize the colours with Jess and then send them to the designer


❏ Ask Fred for his thoughts on the software choices [NOTICE I added some clarity here on how to choose the software — Ask Fred for his input.]

❏ Choose the software [NOTICE I split the “review and choose” item into two separate items.]

❏ Have purchasing proceed with the purchase


❏ Ask Mary to finalize and schedule a lunch with VP and CEO [Notice it became clear to me I had to delegate this task to “someone”]

❏ Prepare notes for meeting


❏ Write next week’s blog !!

It’s so easy to get stuck in a reactive state or lose momentum from the day before. Writing and keeping an ongoing, centralised to-do list allows you to capture and harness your progress and focus from the day before.

Sitting down at your desk in the morning with a clear plan on what you need to do to move forward on what’s IMPORTANT as opposed to what’s urgent can make all the difference.  If you’d like a refresher on Important vs Urgent, click here

Coach’s Question:

How might you use lists to keep you on track to your long-term goals?

Who on your team might benefit from lists and how can you help them with it?

How to motivate your team to improve performance

A smooth, dynamic team that delivers results doesn’t happen by coincidence. Even if you already have an awesome team, knowing how to really get the best from them can be a challenge.

Here’s a refresher with some helpful tips to make sure that you’re motivating your team without the headache.

Step 1: Learn their “why”

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of knowing your why. It allows you to focus your efforts, make decisions with purpose, and ENJOY your work.

It’s absolutely no different for your team members.

Understanding WHY each of them is working for you / with you and what their driving force is can be a game-changer in terms of being able to position things in a way that suits them. It can help you help them reach their goals which gives them a fantastic reason to work as hard and smart as possible for you and your organization.

Let me emphasize — I’m talking about figuring out what drives each team member individually.  You can’t generalize that “the sales team” is motivated by X or the “why” for the Marketing Team is XX. Two people in the same role may have similar outlooks but we’re all individual and making assumptions about the whole team can lead to ruin.

Step 2: Cater to their communication style

I so often see poor communication at the center of issues in an organization. Clarity in communication can alleviate even the stickiest of situations. Remember, communication is as much, or more, about listening as it is about being heard.  One way to keep your team motivated is to make sure they feel heard.

Taking the time to figure out the communication nuances of each of your team members will save you hours of time resolving issues.

And, when there is clarity on what needs to happen next, what the most important priorities are, and what expectations are – it’s easy for team members to take it upon themselves to prioritize in alignment with organizational goals.

Step 3: Acknowledge and Reward your team

The ol’ carrot dangling thing seems archaic but despite all the changes to society – we’re not that different. We’re motivated by rewards and acknowledgement.

However, we each respond to different rewards and like to receive acknowledgment in different ways. The trick is figuring out who’s motivated by money, who likes time off, who likes flexibility, or autonomy and ensuring you’re rewarding people in the way they like to be rewarded.

The same goes for acknowledgement. One team member might love to receive accolades in a company wide email, while another may prefer a more quiet pat on the back.

Figure out who prefers what and speak to them in their language.

Coach’s Questions:

How do you plan to get to know each of your team member’s motivators? What step can you take today to understand nuances in communication style? What will you do to make a point of acknowledging and rewarding your team members the way they want?