The Positive Psychology Approach to Goal Management

The Positive Psychology Approach to Goal Management

Business leaders manage goals by setting and systematically striving to achieve them. While management and organizational researchers have laid the groundwork for goal management, the emerging field of Positive Psychology appears to offer many additional findings and insights that will help managerial leaders be more effective as they define and pursue goals.

Factors such as character strengths, optimism, and resilience can play significant roles in how well goals are managed. In the end, a managerial leader’s ability to make wise choices and to implement pathways that lead to attaining desired goals is critical to success. Drawing from the field of Positive Psychology, this article provides guidance to help you more effectively manage goals by focusing on such factors as personal values, persistence, and confidence

Seven Helpful Practices

The field of Positive Psychology was developed by Martin Seligman along with his research associates at the University of Pennsylvania. Seligman’s own work[5] and work with others[6] is helping to build a scientific basis for the study of Positive Psychology. As Fred Luthans[7] notes, this work has increasing application for organizational behavior and managerial leadership. This area of thought provides us with a variety of frameworks and tools useful to help leaders effectively manage goals.
In setting and pursuing goals, managerial leaders can apply seven practices identified in the field of Positive Psychology:

1. Commit to a set of core values to enhance meaning and purpose.
2. Be sure that your goals are aligned with and are driven by your core values.
3. Align actions or pathways to achieve your goals with your Character Strengths.
4. Ask yourself regularly, “How confident am I that the actions and pathways we are pursuing to achieve our goals are appropriate?”
5. Be persistent in pursuing your action plans and pathways for achieving your goals until you obtain convincing evidence to do otherwise.
6. Display realistic optimism.
7. If you are confident about achieving your confirmed value-centered goals, apply the proven skills of resilience when facing inevitable obstacles.

When the practical resources necessary to set and attain your goals are in place, the above seven practices will help you clarify your personal commitment, gain confidence, and persevere when engaged in the goals management process.

An Executive Snapshot

To walk through these practices, consider the example of George Wilson, CEO of ABC Enterprises. Wilson designed, developed, and implemented a “Value-Centered Approach to Goal Setting and Action Planning” for his organization using these seven practices. Let the following highlights from this work be your “take aways” for goal setting and management:

Take Away #1: Values Commitment

Wilson indexed his core values and focused his commitment by using the Value-Based Checklist ( [8]Wilson’s five core values are:

1. Integrity
2. Responsibility
3. Fairness
4. Hope
5. Achievement

Take Away #2: Aligning Goals to Core Values

Wilson set five strategic goals, including one to downsize an operating division, then rated each of his goals against each of his five core values. On a self-rated scale of 1 to10 (10 being highest), all of Wilson’s goals aligned with each of his core values with a rating of 8 or higher. “Fairness” was a particularly important element in his organization’s downsizing activities.

Take Away #3: Aligning Character Strengths with Action

Wilson outlined five to ten key actions or pathways for attaining each of his five strategic goals in light of his five character strengths. He had identified his character strengths by completing the Values In Action (VIA, see <> for the VIA strengths inventory). He considered how he could utilize his character strengths to help achieve the five strategic goals. For example, he brainstormed specific ways in which he would use his top strength, “wisdom,” to selectively counsel/advise his key reports on critical issues related to downsizing. Wilson also decided to have his key reports identify their five primary strengths by completing the VIA online.

Take Away #4: Regularly Check Your Confidence Level

After implementing his action plan, Wilson conducted quarterly self-audits over a twelve-month period. He determined that his selected pathways to goal achievement were effective.

Take Away #5: Be Persistent

Wilson regularly reviewed his action plans and determined that his pathways were consistently on target. These self observations reinforced his perseverance in pursuit of his course of action to attain his strategic goals.

Take Away #6: Be Realistically Optimistic

Based on his review of the books Learned Optimism[9], Authentic Happiness, and the “Stockdale Paradox” found in Collins’ book Good to Great, Wilson did three things to maintain an optimistic outlook as he pursued his five Strategic Goals:

 1. He learned to separate factual evidence concerning potential obstacles to achieving his strategic goals from subjective negative self talk.
2. He practiced positive self talk.
3. He made at least one encouraging positive statement weekly to each of his key reports as they implemented aspects of the various action plans for the five strategic value-centered goals.

Wilson identified the above three actions with the help of an executive coach and information that Wilson gleaned from taking the Seligman Optimism Test.

Take Away #7: Be Resilient When Faced With Obstacles

After determining his Resilience Quotient (RQ), Wilson was better able to cope with obstacles and setbacks proactively and more effectively as he pursued his strategic goals. His RQ was obtained by completing the 56-item “RQ Test” found in Reivich and Shatte’s book The Resilience Factor: 7 Essential Skills for Overcoming Life’s Inevitable Obstacles. He found the skills of calming and focusing especially useful when dealing with resistance from some of his key reports regarding setting specific performance targets.


The effective management of goals can spell the difference between executive success and derailment. You can put this process on track by understanding and applying some of the scientifically based practices from the field of Positive Psychology, such as aligning goals with personal values and character strengths as well as being confident, realistically optimistic, and persistent. These applications to goal management can help you more fully utilize your character strengths and optimism and be more resilient as you pursue your goals.

Beyond the practices offered here, executive coaches and managerial leaders are encouraged to explore other ways that the findings from Positive Psychology can be applied to enhance leadership and organizational effectiveness. One fruitful starting point would be to review the Handbook of Positive Psychology edited by C.R. Snyder and Shane J. Lopez[10]to enhance your understanding of potentially relevant frameworks and tools that you may want to consider applying in your work. This article’s application to goal management of practical “take aways” from the field of Positive Psychology may well provide you with a useful springboard for achieving your goals.

Charles D. Kerns, PhD, is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University. Dr. Kerns brings more than 30 years of business, management and consulting experience to his position. For ten years he was involved as an executive in the healthcare field. Through his private consulting firm, Dr. Kerns has consulted with and implemented value-based leadership systems for companies from various industries. From 1980 to the present, he has taught in almost every program in the Graziadio School, first as an adjunct faculty member, then as a full-time faculty member since August 2000. He is the author of Value-Centred Ethics, HRD Press, 2005.

For more information about Positive Pwychology @ Work contact please us at Talent Tools on:
P      61 7 3862 2859            F     61 7 3862 2949    Skype  Australia 3103 0177    or by email

Author:Charles D. Kerns, PhD