Create a Personal Plan to Be a More Effective Leader

By Carole Ann Penney

Carole Ann Penney
Just as your nonprofit uses a strategic plan to set its direction, align efforts, and bring a vision for impact to life, you can do the same to bring clarity and meaning to your work and help you become a more effective and impactful leader.

Your personal strategic plan holds you accountable to making the time for the core, foundational work upon which your leadership is built. When you take the time to set this inner framework, you are better able to integrate and apply additional leadership skills so that you are more authentic, confident, and effective.

A strategic plan has three key parts:

1. What Kind of Impact You Want to Have

First and foremost, a strategic plan paints the picture of your desired future ”“ both with broad brushstrokes and specific details. It is not a plan: it doesn’t lock you in to this particular future or tell you the steps that will get you there. Rather, it provides you with data about what you want to achieve and where you want to lead your team. This vision is the beacon that everything you do between now and then aims toward.

When writing your vision, be specific. This is the time to zero in. Instead of watering down your impact, you are taking a targeted approach to have a particular kind of impact that is meaningful and exciting to you. In defining what you will do, you’re also creating a filter for what you won’t do in order to ensure that your energy and efforts are aligned with what you’re trying to achieve instead of going to waste.

You'll use your strategic plan as a decision-making tool that helps you to focus and prioritize. When a new opportunity comes your way, ask yourself: Does this contribute to my vision? If the answer is no, then the answer is no.

2. Why that Vision Is Important to You and Why You’re the One to Do It

The heart of a strategic plan is a statement of your core purpose, the why behind your work. Articulating and returning to your personal mission reminds you in clear terms why you do what you do. Your plan also captures how you’re uniquely poised to carry out this mission ”“ what experience and skills you bring to the table.

Studies on worker satisfaction show that what motivates most people in the workplace is not recognition or rewards; the real fuel for motivation and engagement is a sense of meaning in their work.

Your plan will keep you focused. When you get distracted or discouraged, your mission will ground you and connect you to your work. When unpredictable things come up and you need to adapt, ground yourself in your mission and creatively pivot strategies to move forward in a way that is aligned with who you are.

3. How You’ll Make It Happen

This is where you lay out how you’ll close the gap between where you are now and your future. You define the goals and action steps that will bring that inspiring vision to life. The fewer the goals, the better. This is your opportunity to stay focused, set clear priorities, and bring your actions into alignment with what’s most important to you.

This is also where you define your measures of success. How will you know when you’ve achieved what you set out to do? What milestones will you mark along the way? Again, be specific. These measures both hold you accountable to progress and give you permission to celebrate!

By writing your goals down, you’re committing to making this future happen. It is no longer a vague notion that lives only in your head or your heart. You now have a targeted plan for impact and a clear why to drive those efforts. You’re already on your way.

A final tip: An effective and useful strategic plan is a living document that you reference on a regular basis. When writing your plan with, consider using Google Docs, which lets you collaborate with advisor(s), because the process involves constantly refining your understandings of yourself and what and want to achieve.

Bottom line: Your strategic plan will ground and guide your work and enable you to get crystal clear on the elements that form the framework of your leadership: your what (impact), your why (mission), and your how (goals).

Carole Ann Penney, Strategic Career Coach & Founder of Penney Leadership, LLC and Organizational Consultant with Fio Partners, LLC, develops mission-driven leaders, teams, and organizations so that they may purposefully grow their impact. Email her at

January 2019