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Prioritization, accountability keys to achieving goals

By Kirsten McMahon, Associate Editor

In order to make change happen in your life — whether it’s a big or small objective — you need to prioritize your goal and be held accountable to it, Toronto lawyer and certified executive coach Michael Bury tells

Whether your goal is to get to the gym a few times a week or change your career path, Bury, founder of Blue Pond Coaching, says the steps remain the same.

“In order to make significant changes, a person has to be sure that they truly want it and whether they are prepared to make it a priority,” he says. “The second critical factor to success is accountability.

"How many New Year’s resolutions do people fail to keep? I suspect the number is quite high and one of the reasons is because there’s no accountability system set up,” Bury says.

He says many of the coaching clients he meets with have one thing in common — they want to change. They’ve taken the first step of seeking out a coach and have carved out the time to come to the first meeting.

“More often than not, they arrive with a ‘wish list.’ They want to switch jobs, take their law practice in a different direction or get some additional education like an advanced law degree. These lists can be quite long,” Bury says.

One of the starting points, he says, is to dispel any myths he has a magic wand that will make a transformation appear overnight.

“Getting coached is hard work. Before we begin the process, there is some upfront heavy lifting I expect from my clients. They have to figure out if their ‘wish list’ is really what they want to achieve,” Bury says.

In order to make significant changes, he says a person must be prepared to make this a priority.

“I ask clients to consider every aspect of their life and whether they are willing to make adjustments which will allow for the change to happen," Bury says. "Your daily routine, for example, may have to be altered significantly if you want to take an advanced law degree while working.”

Many of these discussions involve a “reality check” and require a person to think about all of the small adjustments that will have to take place in order to achieve the big change.

“If someone honestly doesn’t believe they can make the small changes, then they are setting themselves up for failure," Bury says. "My role at this point is critical because I will ask the hard questions to make sure that failure is not an option.

“If we cannot arrive at this point, then the desired goal needs to be reassessed,” he adds.

Once the basic groundwork is complete, Bury says it’s time to explore what has prevented the client from achieving their goals on their own. He says many times they are simply overwhelmed by their daily legal practice.

“It’s actually quite common for successful lawyers to get stuck. At some point, they stop being innovative and rely on their prior successes. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ becomes a safety blanket,” he says.

“You see this in other businesses as well," Bury says. "Once restaurants become successful, they often stop changing their menus. It’s hard to restart once you get something working or something you think is working."

The motivation shifts from an approaching orientation to an avoidance mindset, Bury says.

“If you want to advance yourself, you need to assume an ‘approaching’ mindset — a willingness to explore and change. You become less concerned about risks and more interested in the rewards,” he says.

If a person is seeking change to either maintain their position or avoid something bad from happening, that’s avoidance, he notes.

“Avoidance more often than not results in a rut for legal professionals, and this is a dangerous thing in times of rapid innovation in the legal industry,” Bury says.

After a mindset reset, it’s time to get an accountability system set up. This can be done through an accountability partner, someone who keeps you on track.

“During the coaching engagement, that’s me. But in order for success to continue, you need someone to check in with to update on your progress regularly and, more importantly, talk to when you are having difficulties,” Bury says.

“Without this type of support in place, you will have wasted your time and money on coaching. Change doesn’t happen overnight — you need to have someone you trust in your corner,” he says.

While some clients continue to use Bury as their accountability partner and schedule check-in appointments as required, it is really up to the individual. The key is to have a plan.

“Other clients are comfortable with a personal accountability system such as a paper checklist or smartphone app, which can also work," he says.

Bury says in Jerry Seinfeld’s early days, he decided he was going to be a great comedian and in order to do so, he decided he needed to write at least one joke every day.

“His accountability system was a big wall calendar which had an entire year on one page, hung prominently in his apartment. For each day he completed his joke, he put a big, red ‘X’ over that day, creating a chain of days,” he says.

“If the chain remained unbroken, he knew he was getting to where he wanted to be and was his way to measure success,” Bury says.

“The key is to have something or someone to maintain the momentum that you’ve started with your coaching engagement and a way to measure it," he says. "The rest will follow.”

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