• Estimated read time: 7 mins
  • Date posted:12/12/2018
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December is a natural time to reflect on your career accomplishments over the past twelve months and establish leadership development goals for the coming year. This exercise can be especially valuable for discerning life science executives who can use this period of introspection to make an honest critique of their performance – achievements, failures and opportunities missed – so that they might identify areas for improvement.

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals” ~ Henry David Thoreau.

The science behind goal setting is clear: leaders who set goals are more successful than those who don’t. It’s all to do with what’s known as the “endowment effect”; when you take ownership of something, it becomes yours. For this reason, your leadership development goals should be specific and relevant to you while reflecting your business objectives. However, to reach your goals, you must reflect on where you’ve come from.

Many leaders shy away from this type of activity, especially if the year was difficult or disappointing. Although this resistance is understandable, by reflecting on our performance, both failure and success, we are in a better position to look forward and keep our organisations and careers on an even keel. We can even bring closure to unpleasant events and establish leadership development goals that set us up for success in the new year.

To help get you started, here are 7 powerful techniques that will help you reflect on the past and prepare for a prosperous new year.

1. Did I accomplish my leadership development goals this year?

Be honest, how many of your leadership development goals did you hit this year? In later questions, we’ll deep-dive into your wins and losses, but for now, we’re keeping top-level and focusing on the proportion of goals you achieved. Leadership development goals should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timeless – with emphasis on attainable, relevant and timeless aspects. Let’s be frank, there is no point in setting leadership development goals that you have little or no hope of achieving, so this exercise will help put your accomplishments and failures in perspective and ensure your leadership development goal setting for the next year is based on realistic assumptions and timeframes.

For more on Setting SMART leadership goals, check out this excellent article by Leslie Truex.

2. What was my greatest accomplishment?

Now we’ve taken a top-level view, let’s deep-dive into the positive aspects of the year. What did you achieve this year that you were most proud of?

Make a list of your personal accomplishments, from the big wins (like successful delivery of projects) to the smaller achievements (such as honing your negotiation skills). Now think about the one accomplishment that you value above all others. Ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. Was this accomplishment your personal goal for the year or the product of an unexpected event? Either way, you will feel confident and empowered because of your achievement.
  2. What results did you achieve? Did you receive a promotion? Raise your organisation’s profile? Lead a successful project that gave you more visibility in the industry?
  3. What expertise did you gain? Did this accomplishment help you acquire new skills or insights that you could apply to a future career move or project?
  4. What did you improve? Did you streamline operations at your organisation? Or was it a personal improvement that will stand you well in the future?
  5. What makes it significant? In other words, how did the outcome impact your career? Did you achieve industry recognition? A raise?

Think about how you achieved this success. Are there steps or strategies that could be employed when pursuing future goals? Or did you sacrifice so much in terms of time and resources that you should rethink your approach to a similar objective in future? However you obtained your accomplishment, take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.

3. Who was my biggest champion?

As the saying goes, no man is an island. Your professional relationships with colleagues and partners are essential to long-term career success, so nurturing these relationships is essential.

Think about those who helped you achieve your development goals. Don’t limit your gratitude to individuals who delivered on a grand scale. Small gestures matter too. Acknowledge those who:

  • Provided valuable encouragement when you felt discouraged or perturbed.
  • Stepped in to help when you were at a loss as to how to solve a problem.
  • Listened to your ideas and offered suggestions that improved them.
  • Brought a potentially challenging situation to your attention.

These people are your friends, supporters, and cheerleaders. Make sure that you acknowledge how they helped you and thank them sincerely. The law of reciprocity is undisputed. “According to sociologist Alvin Gouldner, not only is this rule active in all cultures, but it permeates human exchange of every kind. The rule dictates that we try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided to us” (2003, Russel J. White). So by acknowledging your champions and repaying their kindness, you can expect more good favours and assistance in future.

4. Who did I help?

As the previous reflection suggests, success in the job is all about give and take. So what did you give this year?

As you think about how you helped others, consider who they were. Did you only go out of your way to help and appease fellow executives, or were you equally supportive of junior team members? Was your help limited to those on your team or the wider organisation? Similarly, were you only helpful in the office and less forthcoming with volunteer initiatives?

Depending on your circumstances, you may wish to consider spreading your support to a broader network. Alternatively, if you did not assist anyone, make it one of your goals for next year. The more you think about your connections, you may realise that you’ve lost touch with former co-workers, old friends, or once-valued connections. Think about reconnecting with them.

5. Did I keep my promise?

Over-promising and under-delivering is not a recipe for success. Leaders make a lot of promises to customers, employees and stakeholders, but many struggle to keep them, leading to what is termed “commitment drift”, whereby promises go unfulfilled. This undermines trust across the business, which can impact company culture and employee well-being.

If you’ve made promises that you can’t deliver, what were the reasons you failed to action them? Was it because you did not have the expertise, time or resources? When analysing your failed commitments, ask yourself whether they are essential to your business and leadership development goals. If they are, establish systems and processes to help keep you accountable. And if they aren’t, eliminate them. For more on how leaders can keep their promises, read this excellent article by Michelle M. Smith on the seven common leadership pitfalls to avoid.

6. What didn’t I accomplish?

We start each year intending to accomplish certain goals or personal projects. If you achieved all your leadership development goals this year, congratulations!

Most people, however, achieve only some of their objectives. Acknowledging this fact is not admitting failure; it’s the first step to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Now that the end of the year is drawing close, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What goals were abandoned or forgotten?
  • Which projects were not started or completed?
  • Which projects did you attempt but could not complete?
  • If you missed an opportunity, why?

Take some time to consider what lessons these failed goals and uncompleted projects could teach you. Reviewing times when you did not perform to the best of your ability can help you assess skills gaps (both hard technical skills and soft leadership skills) as well as resource gaps. Perhaps you’ve been putting off that technical specialist hire too long and need help with your search.

7. What excites me in the New Year?

What events or experiences excite you in the coming year? Harness your enthusiasm by incorporating these into your leadership development goals next year, and make sure you plan for the necessary resources to accomplish them. On the other hand, if you really can’t think of anything that you’re looking forward to, it’s time to get creative. For example, you can:

  • Plan to take professional development courses and seminars that will increase your knowledge and help you discover new interests and passions.
  • Read industry journals to learn about prominent professionals, research breakthroughs, and other areas that may spark your interest.
  • If you’re really unmotivated, ask yourself, is it time to find a new challenge and move on to pastures new? Life science organisations small and large are always on the lookout for high-impact talent. If you’re unfulfilled in your current role, check out our latest life science jobs from pharmaceutical, biologics and medical device organisations across Asia, Europe and the USA.


The ability to reflect on the past is a valuable skill, one that’s just as important as planning for the future. Looking back provides insight into your personal and professional development, allows you to think critically about good and bad experiences, and strengthens your understanding of both so that you can make more informed leadership development goals in future.


For more career advice tailored to senior managers and executives in the life science industry…

* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.