The One Personal Goal You Need for 2011

Last Updated Jan 3, 2011 2:34 PM EST

Goals. We all make them to start the new year. And forget them by Valentine's Day.

So here's your excuse to stop working on your Personal Goals for 2011 right this moment. The reason: They might make you a less effective leader.

The fact of the matter is that personal goals can come at the expense of something more important: making others around you better by making them your priority. That's the word from Harvard Business School professors Robin Ely and Frances Frei, and Anne Morriss of Concire Leadership Institute.

"That doesn't mean leaders are selfless. They have personal goals -- to build status, a professional identity, and a retirement plan, among other things," the authors write in the current Harvard Business Review. "But the narrow pursuit of those goals can lead to self-protection and self-promotion, neither of which fosters other people's success."
This may be one of the hardest things you will do as a leader. After all, self-protection is the ultimate brain hard-wire. So to downplay our own needs can feel dangerous, according to Ely, Frei and Morriss in their article, Stop Holding Yourself Back.

"But all breakthrough leaders find ways to tame their security impulses. Most are amazed by the energy and meaning they discover when they no longer define themselves by their personal needs and fears."

OK, so you should have at least one personal goal this year: Make others better. Your commitment should be to make another person, or your entire team, better in some way. At problem solving, or prioritizing, or communicating with customers. Then get them the resources they need to get to work.

(Photo by World Economic Forum on Flickr, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.