Leadership Musings, Goal-Setting, and the New Year: A Colloquy

The holiday season is always a time of gratitude, giving, and contemplation for me . . . As the pandemic continues for a second holiday season, I find myself reflecting on 2020 and 2021 in powerful ways.

Joan MacLeod Heminway & Stefan Kostas

Joan:      

The holiday season is always a time of gratitude, giving, and contemplation for me. It conjures up all kinds of thoughts and emotions. As the pandemic continues for a second holiday season, I find myself reflecting on 2020 and 2021 in powerful ways. For me, 2020 was a year in which we learned the power of resilience—surviving (and even thriving) through forced changes of so many kinds. I experienced 2021 as a year in which flexibility became important. It has filled with lots of ups and downs, hopes and disappointments, accomplishments and setbacks. I wonder whether the holiday season has similar meanings for you and whether you experienced these past two years in a similar way . . . .

Stefan:

I, too, tend to reflect on the year during each holiday season. For me, this period is one where I can not only learn from the adversity of the year but also express gratitude and pride for all the achievements. I agree that 2020 was an unprecedented year filled with challenges and often no handbook on how to navigate forward. The students and staff at The University of Tennessee College of Law, however, exhibited the resilience you referenced and worked as a community to march forward and continue reaching our goals. Although 2021 might have looked different than we anticipated (at times), I agree that our community applied the lessons learned from the past year to employ flexibility along the way. Additionally, I feel a powerful sense of pride for how our College of Law community never wavered from the Volunteer spirit and continued giving back to the local community through clinic, pro bono efforts, and fundraising events.

Following these reflections, I want to ask if you have had any time so far over the winter break to consider any goals or major resolutions you aim to achieve in the upcoming year?

Joan:

Maybe reflection at this point in the year is an inevitable by-product of the calendar year—ending one year and starting another . . . .  Your reflections do seem consistent with mine in major part—and they add important details. In particular, I understand and can underscore your references to navigating forward without a handbook and the strength and achievements of our law school community. “Yes” to all of that!  In the spirit of those reflections, I do appreciate your question about goals and resolutions. It is a somewhat complex one to answer.  But I will respond generally here with a few thoughts.

As you know, for faculty, much of the break focuses on assessing student work—in my case, 64 written final exams and 29 papers (including two from you!). But it always is a time of looking forward for me as well. From the standpoint of law teaching, there is, of course, a new semester on the horizon. In the past two years I taught an overload in the spring semester, so my main professional objectives were rather general ones, including those necessary to surviving through teaching four courses (and last year, knowing that would be done in a pandemic)! But this year, with a more normal two-course load in the spring semester, I am focused on broader professional and personal goal setting, which I look forward to doing over the next few weeks. (As an aside, I will note that I prefer goal setting to resolution making. The former is part of a process I routinely use to organize my life in and outside work; the latter seems like more of a fixed-in-time do-or-die kind of planning.) Professionally, you and I will be working with others on strategic planning for the Institute for Professional Leadership. I look forward to benchmarking that process.  In addition, I have some longer-term projects—a paper and two books—in process that I have reset goals on many times. I want to prioritize those projects this year. Personally, I will be setting new goals for calorie consumption and physical activity (something I do rather regularly) and planning to travel with my husband. The Greek financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have delayed trips we had planned to take in recent years. But we are committed to working out plans for travel in 2022. Look for news of my specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, time-bound (i.e., SMART) goals on all of that and more in the new year.

How about you?  I have observed that one of your academic and personal leadership strengths is your ability to set goals and “keep your eyes on the prize” (so to speak). Now that your exams and papers are all in the faculty’s hands, what are your thoughts about goals or resolutions for 2022? Is goal setting or resolution making part of what you are or will be spending your time doing? If so, what goals or resolutions are you focused on?  Do they focus on performing or learning or something else or any combination of the foregoing?  (I read this article recently, which—among other things—distinguishes performance goals from learning goals.  I thought that was interesting.) Lots of questions! I am curious to know what, if any, forward-looking thinking you may be doing that you are willing to share.

Stefan: 

I am glad to hear that you will regain a sense of normalcy with a two-course spring semester and can focus on your professional and personal goal setting (along with travel). Although I am not jealous of your upcoming grading of almost 100 submissions of student work product, I do look forward to our strategic planning for the Institute for Professional Leadership. 

As for my outlook on 2022, I plan to also set “SMART” goals rather than resolutions for my academic and personal life. For academics, this next semester is my last in law school and I plan to take full advantage of my remaining time at The University of Tennessee and all the educational opportunities the College of Law offers. Specifically, in the spring I am enrolled in three bar classes and will compete on the moot court team in the Tulane Professional Football Negotiation Competition. Additionally, I am organizing the programming for the Health Law Week in February and the IPL Leadership Week in March. Following this semester, I also have the goal of giving a maximum effort to my bar exam studies so that I can be as prepared as possible for the exam in late July. 

In terms of personal goals, I recently registered for my first-ever half marathon in March. For this race, I have set the goal of fully completing my training plan and giving my best effort on race day. Along with this half marathon, I have set the goal of running 1,000 miles by the end of 2022. Lastly, I plan to spend more time traveling this year—both by visiting my friends in different cities and going on a honeymoon with my fiancée, Caylee, in August after our wedding.

Joan:

The graduation, the wedding, and a honeymoon!  Ah, yes.  2022 will be an important and memorable year for you just for those reasons.  All of that, plus the law competition team, Health Law Week, the IPL Leadership Week, bar preparation, and marathoning—on top of regular classes—makes for a busy year, too, for sure.

It sounds like we have our work cut out for us. And coming back to where we started, we may be thrown a few more curveballs throughout. I am ready! Regardless, I look forward to helping you to achieve some of your goals—ones where I can have a productive role—and to inviting you to assist me in meeting some of my goals where your knowledge, skills, and wisdom can provide constructive input.

Thanks for all of these reflections—and for agreeing that we would share this colloquy with our blog readers.  I appreciate you and wish you and all of our readers happiness in the ongoing holiday season and much joy in the new year.

Stefan:

Yes! Although I expect this upcoming year will provide its share of challenges, I am hoping it will also be an exciting and rewarding time for us both. I also look forward to working together this semester and finishing out strong on our objectives for the Institute.

Thank you as well for your perspective and going back-and-forth in this colloquy. I, too, wish you and all our readers a wonderful holiday season, with health and prosperity in the new year!

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