I don’t know about you, but when I don’t reach a goal it really annoys me. As much as I don’t want to admit it, there are a number of unfinished goals in my past. I would venture a guess that if we pulled back the curtain on most people, we’re all in the same boat in this category. Learning how to accomplish goals is as much of a process as is learning to do leadership well.

There are a number of reasons for us not finishing them. It could be poor time management. Perhaps we weren’t very realistic and so we simply weren’t in touch with reality when we set that particular goal. Maybe there were things that just came out of left field and knocked us so far off course, we thought it wasn’t a worthy goal anymore. However, the most common reason for us not realizing our goals is that we are clueless and we ignorantly march on reveling in our cluelessness.

You may be ready to punch me in the face right now for calling you clueless. I mean after all, you do have a degree and 10 years of experience in a leadership position. You have set some amazing goals for your team/business unit/whatever and they have been profitable for your organization. Who am I to say otherwise?

Well…I am not just throwing YOU under the bus. We’re all guilty of this problem, me included, so let’s throw it on the table and dissect it a bit. Where we let our cluelessness reign supreme is in how we perceive our goals and the fulfillment of the same. We tend to ask ourselves the wrong questions about what our goals are when compared to our actions and focus. The REAL question we need to be asking is:  Is my goal something to do or a by-product of doing something else?

There are 4 key things you must do in order to ensure you know which is which…and stop being clueless about your goals.

  1. Drop the emotion –  Take it from a very intense and passion-driven person, you HAVE to objectively look at your goals no matter how giddy and excited you are about them. Our emotions are great, but they have a place and time (along with appropriate magnitude at certain times). Not keeping them in check properly will let our clueless flag fly high. Not easy, but absolutely necessary.
  2. Prioritize – Most goals require more than one act or deed to accomplish them. Many times you will depend on the support and help of others. As much as we would like, everyone can’t start and finish at the exact same time. If you know even the slightest bit about project management, use it! If you don’t, do some research to have a basic understanding of it. There are times when doing one thing actually accomplishes another part of your goal (this is the by-product part). If you focus on finishing the 2nd thing without really dealing with the 1st thing, you’ll drive yourself dippy.
  3. Manage your calendar – This isn’t just a time management issue. It’s quite easy to become so excited about the prospect of reaching our goals that we place an unrealistic time frame on things. Sometimes there is no need for a time frame, but rather a commitment to finish a series of smaller goals so the bigger goal is nothing more than a decision. The traditional thought on goal development means they are time bound, but it doesn’t have to be down to the week. Sometimes we need a reasonable range.
  4. Don’t be a lone hero – If you’re goal is one where you don’t want to share it with the world (at least not yet), then have some serious conversations with those close to you. Craft a strategy based on those with whom you decide to share. See how you can work together to get things moving. It’s absolutely amazing how people just begin to appear once you have actually begun something. You WILL need help at some stage in the game, so don’t deceive yourself into thinking you don’t.
What would you add to this list?
  • Hi William,
    Very interesting post you wrote. My addition to this keys off of “prioritize”.

    There may be many “goals” that were never goals — they were ideas, sparks of creativity. We need to have sparks flare up before we can assess if they are worthy of becoming today’s goals.

    I keep a list of all these sparks for future goals and I don’t feel bad that I haven’t accomplished them. They don’t get on the “to do” list until I have actually assessed their business merit.

    Why do I mention this? Because if we mistake sparks for goals – we can subconsciously squelch creativity with the pressure to achieve everything!

    Just my two cents … excellent post.

  • I would definitely add your suggestions to the list, Kate. It can be easy to latch on to those sparks and make them goals that “must” be completed. Not only should they have business merit, but they should speak to your strategy. Thanks so much for your contribution!

  • William,
    I want to hone in on a point you make in the set up. For me, what’s most important about what you call out is our meandering leadership without focus. Too many leaders shoot from the hip, learn that they’re good at it, and lean on it too much. It becomes an overused strength.

    It’s understandable why this happens. The demands on our time are so great that we barely have time to reflect. Even a trip to the bathroom is accompanied with our smart phones. (Sorry to go there.)

    As we bounce around from meeting to meeting, conference calls, hallways conversations, and office drive-bys, we deplete our available time to really think about goals and their many inputs.

    With this long winded reply, the addition to your list is some self-work: leaders who take time to get clear on their personal values, defining their mission to support the company. With their internal drive or compass set, it becomes a little bit easier to battle the “forces” that deplete our available time.

    Good on you for starting this conversation,

  • Absolutely Shawn! I wrote a post last month called 5 Ways To Avoid Triage Leadership that touch on exactly what you point out. We need to definitely have purposeful and intentional down time in order to consistently lead well. Thanks for your contribution!

  • I would add assess impact of achieving your goal. Probably associated with prioritizing. Most managers/leaders don’t look at the impact of their goal to the larger organization. When tackling goals, I always like to go for the ones with biggest impact and least effort. Not always possible, but generally using that approach, I can get stuff done.

  • Very lucid point Chuck. Great standard by which to measure these types of decisions. Like you mentioned, the standard is only as valuable as the wisdom that helps understand where to apply the exceptions. Thanks heaps for your thought on this conversation!

  • Hi William,

    I agree with all your points and I’m certainly relate to my own failures in not following the four keys you’ve identified. Yes, it is absolutely necessary to keep one’s emotions in check in establishing goals, I think it is vital that there is an emotional connection between the goal and the people who will be responsible for achieving it. As a leader, I think it is vital to provide the appropriate context–by telling the story underlying the goal and why it is so important–so that you do create this emotional connection and passion that will inspire and engage your team.

    To cite a real world example, years ago when I headed up marketing at an adventure travel company, we employed this as part of an Open Book Management initiative, taken from the Great Game of Business. It was remarkable how passionate and focused our entire staff was on achieving various goals (games) we played (including our 65-year old mail room clerk).

    So I submit emotion plays a very key role for a leader in setting and achieving goals. But it has to be very clearly focused on sparking an emotional connection that I believe acts to ‘supercharge’ a traditional ‘SMART’ goal.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience, Mark. When communicating a goal, emotion is an essential component. This should only happen AFTER the legitimacy of the goal has been established. I appreciate your contribution!

  • David Morris

    We can think of a goal as a value realised at some point in the future, and perceived like this it’s essential that we have elicited all our key values – knowing this means we can choose goals about which we care, can give us the passion we need to drive on, and an essential tool for prioritising too.

  • Agreed David. Thanks for your thoughtful reply!