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How to Make Sure Your Goals Work For, Not Against, You

Posted September 26, 2019 • Uncategorized • by Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D.

Dear friends,

Before I get into this week’s blog post below, I am excited to announce that on Wednesday, October 30 at 12:30 pm EST, I’ll be teaching a free, public 1-hour live Q&A webinar on the 8 practices of the Optimal Outcomes Method. Unlike the private work I do in client organizations, this is completely free and open to the public in service of my mission to help leaders everywhere learn to free themselves from conflict.

You can find more information at the bottom of this post or you can Click here to register.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this piece below.

How to Make Sure Your Goals Work For, Not Against, You

September, like January, is a great time for reflecting on professional and personal values and goals. Maybe it’s because September reminds us of starting a new school year. Or maybe after summer vacations we’re ready to dive into work with renewed energy. Or maybe the equinox brings seasonal and spiritual shifts that encourage reflection.

Distinguish Between Ideal vs. Shadow Values

When we reflect, I’ve found it can be very helpful to consider two types of values that typically drive our goals and motivate our behavior. I call them “Ideal Values” and “Shadow Values.” Ideal values are those things we care about in life that we are proud to say really matter to us.

In contrast, shadow values are those things we care about in life, but that we’d never admit we care about, that nonetheless drive our goals and influence our behavior.

In my work advising organizational leaders, I have often seen how our shadow values contribute to conflicts with others. I’ve also discovered how we can use those very same values as a source of freedom, to disentangle ourselves from conflict.

For example, I once coached the CEO of a global bank who said he cared about “growth and innovation.” In his conversations with bank employees and in his speeches to the public, he talked about how innovation was the key to the future of the bank. He even made sure that “innovation” was considered a core value of the bank. The word “Innovation” was proudly hanging alongside the bank’s other values on a large plaque in the building lobby.

But what the bank CEO had been unwilling to admit was that, in addition to his ideal value of innovation, he had also held a shadow value of “security.” Although he had intended to champion innovative ideas and projects, deep down, he’d wanted to keep his company safe from risk. Because he’d kept his shadow value of security stuffed deep down inside, it had often driven his behavior without his realizing it.

For instance, it’s not hard to imagine the frustration that the bank CEO’s direct reports experienced when, despite saying that he valued innovation, he had consistently allocated funding to existing projects while skipping over projects that would test new, innovative ideas.

When we don’t admit what we really care about, it oozes out anyway, often in unproductive ways.

But when we recognize the shadow values that have been underneath the surface of our awareness, we have an opportunity to either let them go, or to make choices that honor them. Once the CEO recognized his shadow value of security, he could consciously choose to what extent he wanted to make safe choices, and to what extent he wanted to test the boundaries and innovate. And he could discuss this tension with his team.

Make the Connection Between Values and Goals

Maybe because we’re deep into September, I’ve been reflecting on the connection between values and goals. Values can be described as the things we really care about in life. Our goals are driven by those values. We care about something, and we work toward a goal to make that value a reality in our lives.

But just like with ideal and shadow values, we unconsciously have shadow goals that differ from our ideal goals. Until we acknowledge a shadow goal, it can be all to easy to miss the mark on our ideal goals entirely, without understanding why.

For example, one of my software clients, Audrey, once told me that she had a goal of growing her company’s subscriber base by an ambitious percentage so she and her team could confidently apply for a new round of venture capital fundraising.

But after months of trying to achieve this goal, they were stuck. When Audrey and I discussed the issue, she acknowledged that she had talked about the goal, but that she hadn’t taken the bold action she knew she’d need to take to inspire her people to go out and find new subscribers.

I asked her to consider what her shadow goal might be. It wasn’t easy for her to admit it, but when she paused to reflect, she realized that she had already accomplished her shadow goal, which was to simply be leading a successful business.

Her company was by all accounts already successful. She and her team had done well in their first two rounds of fundraising. They were humming along. She had achieved her shadow goal: to be the kind of leader who could run a successful business.

Once Audrey acknowledged her shadow goal, and looked at it alongside her ideal goal, she noticed a choice: She could either go for the ideal goal, and inspire her team to attract new subscribers, or acknowledge that she and her team had fulfilled the shadow goal, and allow everyone to stop pushing so hard.

Alternatively, she could acknowledge that her choice wasn’t necessarily a binary one; she could choose to pursue her shadow goal right now, and reserve the right to come back to her ideal goal later.

Once she understood the difference between her ideal goal and her shadow goal, she was in a better position to make a choice that would be right for her and for the company.

Reflect on Your Ideal and Shadow Goals

As we begin this new season, you may have your ideal goals front and center.

It’s worth reflecting on your shadow goals as well. What might be difficult for you to admit, but deep down you know you’d like to accomplish?

Uncover those shadow goals and either let them go or bring them out into the light where you can consciously pursue them.

In freedom,


P.S. If you’re interested in going deeper into this content, I have two suggestions:

1. My colleagues Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey have written extensively about what they call “competing commitments” like ideal goals vs. shadow goals, and they teach often on the subject. You can check out their books, coaching, and lots of helpful resources at:

2. On Wednesday, October 30th, I’ll be teaching a free, public 1-hour live Q&A webinar on the 8 practices of the Optimal Outcomes Method. It is completely free and open to the public in service of my mission to help leaders everywhere learn to free themselves from conflict. I love complex problems, so bring me your questions about ideal and shadow values and goals, and all topics related to how to free yourself from conflict, and we’ll apply the Optimal Outcomes practices together.

Here are the details:

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

12:30 pm EST / 9:30 am PST / 4:30 pm GMT (find your timezone)

Click here to register

Once you register, you’ll receive a more detailed agenda and answers to frequently asked questions about the webinar.

Think of it as a lunch-hour webinar for East Coasters, a “Start your day with freedom” webinar for West Coasters, and an “End your day with freedom” webinar for those in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Please join us and feel free to invite colleagues, family and friends who would enjoy a freedom break!

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