Moving into Action

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. — Henry David Thoreau

Actions may take a while to form, like islands coming forth in the fog. But if we hold possibilities for our clients, the action steps inevitably show up. Readiness for action steps naturally flows from alignment with values, vision and purpose.

As coaches, we help clients hold the big picture so they can align new plans with the overall strategy. When people are clear about what wants to be born and have faced the limitations of their inner or outer critics, they grow excited about bringing forth the vision. Action is the imperative that comes from a clear vision, but the vision changes as people evolve and grow.

Our client’s next action is often right in front of both of us. Seek the low-lying fruit—the easy path or the opportunity for action that is ripe and ready. What actions arise from the heart and do not involve struggle and suffering? Invite them to think of stepping into action as an experiment. Experimenting has flexibility, learning and self-motivation in it.

Some empowering questions that support people to move into action are: What is the easy way to accomplish this? What action would keep the direction you are exploring alive? What is your next step? What are several small steps that would move you toward your goal? Which one do you choose to do fi rst? What actions will you experiment with?

Invite your clients to notice what they are attracted to do, not what their inner critic says they should do.

Establishing SMART Goals

If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind. — Seneca

Vision changes our outlook and attitude. Starting with the end in mind makes it easier to determine the goals and the path. Breaking down the goals into smaller objectives and action plans inspires us to act and increases the likelihood of success. One way to support our individual and organizational clients in goal setting is to use the SMART acronym:

Specific: The more specific the goal, the easier it is to implement and enlist support from others. The clearer the goal, the more powerful it becomes. Start by asking, “What is the desired outcome?” and refine it until it is concise, simple and clear.

Measurable: Measurable goals establish concrete criteria for determining progress and completion. Not only do you have the data to support staying on track, but you can celebrate the achievement of milestones, building momentum along the way. If a client states, “I want to become a better leader,” ask, “How will you know you have achieved your goal?”

Alive: When goals are energizing, people are far more likely to put them into action. If goals are accompanied by a feeling of dread or if the body shrinks, reassess the goal. Set the bar high, but ensure the goals are doable. Unrealistic goals can de-motivate rather than inspire us. Goals that inspire us are not a burden, but joyful to accomplish.

Relevant: Without a sense of what makes the goal important, people rarely commit to or realize their goals. Ask, “What values does the goal honor? What will the goal get you? What meaning does the goal have? How does this goal make a difference for you or others? What impact will it have?”

Time-Bound: A useful and motivating goal is grounded within a timeframe and answers the question, “By when?” Without a completion date, there is no sense of urgency and no real commitment to the goal. A timeframe sets a clear intention of the desired completion date. A goal of increasing sales by 5 percent is meaningless without a date attached to it. “Let’s expand our offerings,” sounds very different from, “Let’s expand our offerings by March.”

SMART (specific, measurable, alive, relevant and time-bound) goals are used frequently in organizations to help employees and teams set goals they can clearly measure during performance evaluations.

Examples of personal SMART goals:

Improve my health by losing 12 pounds in the next 12 weeks. To achieve that goal, I commit

to exercising aerobically for 30 minutes each day and to eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains

and lean meats. I will keep a daily food and exercise log for the 12 weeks.

Deepen my inner awareness by meditating in silence for 20 minutes each morning for the next month and journal my insights each day.

Compose and prioritize up to seven goals

Define your goals, starting each goal with an action verb. Make sure your goals are SMART.

Prioritize your goals from 1-7.

Ensure your goals are aligned with your values by identifying the values you will honor by achieving each goal.

Rate your commitment level to each goal: High, Medium or Low

Create an action plan by breaking down each goal into action steps with due dates.

Based on the work of the balance wheel, some clients will identify many goals for each area of their lives, so encourage them to identify the 5 – 7 most important goals that will make the biggest difference in their lives. Working on more than seven goals at a time disperses their energy, so encourage your clients to focus.

Planning for successful goal implementation

To plan for successful implementation of goals, we can further explore:

How can you stretch yourself?

What would take you out of your comfort zone?

What resources do you need to accomplish each goal?

What predictable resistance or obstacles can you expect?

What accountability structures will inspire you?

What daily actions will serve you?

Who can you enlist to support you in reaching your goals?

How will you celebrate the milestones along the way?

Excerpt from Coaching for Transformation by Lasley, Kellogg, Michaels and Brown. 

For more articles like this, go to the