goal setting

Are Your Goals Making You Sore or Helping You Soar?

Remember back in January when you had that new year motivation and fresh start attitude? You had all of this pent up passion for making something change this year. You had the idea that something was going to be different this year from your previous rut.

Once you identified the “what” you wanted to change, your next step was to set some goals for yourself. For most of us, we set goals for working in the office, traveling, or maybe even working out at the gym.

Do you remember your goals from the beginning of the year? Do you remember where you posted them? Are they still posted in legible form or has the Post-It Note you wrote them on started to curl around the edges with its spotlight position on the refrigerator now covered by last month's grocery list?

Have you made any progress on the goals you set?

You might even have named your goal: BHOG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), Key Results Area, Performance Management Objective, Personal Development Plan, or some other colloquial term that you or your organization or discipline uses.

It is now July, and it is time to go back and check in on what was important to you at the beginning of the year. Ask yourself, "Have I accomplished my goals or did I get off track?”

It can be quite common for people to not to want to review the goals the set earlier in the year, especially if they know they have not made the progress they hoped. The feeling of discouragement can become overwhelming when we see a lack of progress and know we aren't where we had hoped to be by now when the goal was originally set.

Stay In the Game

Discouragement can be devastating when it comes to goals. In my experience, it can be one of the hardest obstacles to overcome.

The goal had meaning and significance to you 6 months ago, so it's time to start asking yourself some questions as to why you are not making progress. You HAVE NOT failed! You have likely learned a lot in 6 months about the goal and your progress if you just stop and think about it.

An analogy came to me the other day that may have some application.

In January, you set your goal. Let's say you wanted to exercise three days a week for an hour. Think of this goal as getting on an airplane. You are all buckled in your seat and ready for take-off. You know the goal. It is written down and it actually feels comfortable.

The plane starts down the runway, shakes, and surges as it gains speed. All of a sudden, it is February. You likely have taken a couple of steps toward goal attainment. You are gaining speed and you can feel the inertia of the plane starting to lift off. In regard to your goal, maybe you called around to see what gym would best fit your needs. You went out and bought new exercise clothes and maybe some shoes. The feeling and speed of the change feels good.

Then comes March. The plane reaches 30,000 feet, the seat belt sign comes off, the plane levels out. And the exercise doldrums set in. You no longer feel the rush of take-off. You no longer can sense the speed of the plane. This is when goal attainment becomes difficult. When it feels like you are not making any progress at all.

The Feeling Is Not Real

The interesting thing to me is the lie our emotions give us in this context. While the positive “dopamine” feeling of starting may be gone, the important thing to realize is that the plane is still going 450 miles an hour even when you can’t feel it. You are still moving. You are still experiencing progress. Even though Q2 is gone and we have said goodbye to April, May, and June, YOU are still flying. Realize your plane is in the air. You have not crashed. YOU HAVE NOT FAILED!

Instead of assuming that you are way off track and that you've already failed, step back and look at your goal objectively. Think about when you set your goals — were they SMART goals?

Most likely you've heard this acronym, and even used them when setting goals, but it is helpful to use to check up on your goals or even get back on track.

  • Was it Specific? When getting specific with your goal, don't just consider what your goal is, but why and how you want to achieve it. Perhaps you want to work on developing young leaders. Your why might be because your want to prepare them for more responsibility in the future and your how will be through professional development workshops or one-on-one mentoring sessions.

  • Was it Measurable? Are you able to see where you are right now and where you'll end up? If you are not able to track the progress of obtaining the goal along the way, you'll have a hard time seeing if you succeeded in the end or stay motivated along the way.

  • Was it Achievable and Realistic? I feel the A and R in our acronym go hand in hand in some ways. When you figure out your goal, how to do it, and when to accomplish it by, you have to think about the parameters and circumstances that you are working in that will make it possible. This isn't to discourage you from setting the goal, but rather encourage you to think about how you will make sure you complete the goal, and ensure that it's not completely out of reach or asking too much from your team. At this point, something may have come up in the last 6 months that have changed your circumstance and deterred your goal. That's okay. Life happens. Instead of seeing it as a failure or no longer attainable, just think about what changes need to be made to your goal, the plan, or the timeline. Don't be tempted to start from scratch, instead, make less work for yourself by simply re-evaluating and tweaking what's already in progress and steer it back on track.

  • Was it Time-bound? Some of you may have set goals that you've already completed, others might feel the pressure of the time ticking away. Use the time as positive pressure to get the work done, not to stress you out. If you feel constrained, give yourself a break and allow yourself more time. If it's a project with a deadline, reach out to your team or manager and see how you can work together to get it completed. Also, consider how you are using your time and what could be distracting you from focusing on your goal. What limits do you need to implement personally to give yourself time and focus to achieve this goal?

Most importantly, remember the why behind your goal and the reasons that motivated you to set the goal in the first place. Visualize what it will look like for you and your team when that goal is accomplished. Write this down and keep it somewhere you'll see it and can read it often. (Perhaps avoid the refrigerator this time!)

Keep yourself in the air and land that goal safely on the ground.


Take a look at the goal you set at the beginning of the year. Grab a coach, mentor, or trusted advisor and share with them your SMART goal. Listen to any advice they have for you. Be encouraged by the progress you have made (even if it feels like you are flying in circles). Decide with your support system what steps you need to take to land your plane safely. Set up another meeting with them in September for a progress check and December for a celebration of your achievement.

Reasons Why Your Goal Setting Isn't Working

Does training impact the ability for us as leaders to attain our goals?

Consider an inexperienced leader named Charlie. He shows up to work early, and stays late. He’s motivated to move from an individual contributor into his first front-line leader role, but he’s not sure how to make that happen. He’s getting grief from his wife for working weekends, and his heavy workload doesn’t ever seem to ease up. How can he move into a leadership role if he’s buried in his current role?

Charlie’s organization is offering a course on Leading with Emotional Intelligence and his boss is encouraging him to attend the class. Charlie feels conflicted. According to research, if Charlie puts this training in the form of a goal that has a useful future orientation, he is more likely to get the results he is looking for, rather than to put the goal in some prevention connotation.


New research that has just been published in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies (Sadler, T., Gibson, S., Reysen, S. (2017), reports the effect of a leadership training program on consideration of future consequences. (Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 10(4), 35-42.)

To operationalize this a bit, let’s say that you have a team of leaders who are all functional experts; Human Resources, Engineering, Information Technology, Sales, Manufacturing, Marketing, Finance and so on. This team, in the past, while getting along personally has conformed to operating in silos. Each person does a great job of representing their own function to the face of the organization, but as a team they struggled to get the synergy that would propel them to the next level.

The sales leader in this case was always trying to maximize sales, and didn’t understand why Marketing couldn’t supply the customer segmentation data fast enough. And why did it take Engineering so long to get the prototype built and delivered to the client?  Engineering, on the other hand, was frustrated with Supply Chain who just couldn’t get realistic estimates on how much materials were actually going to cost.

The president of the organization, realizing the leaders were all doing a great job of representing their individual role, needed to function better as a team. She was encouraged by a colleague to explore the idea of a training program that would focus on team building.  

But would it be successful? Would the organization get synergy from the team development so that the return on the investment would be positive for shareholders?   A good question. A fair question.

Turns out the data is a little mixed on what should be expected.

A Little Background

It is no secret that organizations spend billions of dollars every year on training people in their organizations.  Everything from skill-based training, like how to weld two pieces of metal together, or how to write computer code. From more leadership oriented topics like Leading with Emotional Intelligence or Writing Your Own Leadership Story, to team building events.

Whether the training is skill based, or cultivating leadership in our organizations, the question always surfaces as to what is the return on investment.  Especially when you consider over $34 billion was spent in the United States in 2011 alone!

While it is impossible to calculate what the return is on the $34 billion, there is research that can help us determine if leadership type training is effective in helping leaders meet their goals. But it depends…

Goal Type

It turns out that when it comes to goals, leaders pursue attainment using one of two strategies:

  1. Promotion: concentrating the efforts of achievement on positive proactive and productive results.

  2. Prevention: targeting efforts on avoiding negative outcomes.

Let’s revisit our friend, Charlie. If his orientation is more to prevent something bad from happening or toward thwarting a negative future response, then his success in the training and as a future leader is in question.

How can Charlie (or his boss) orientate the training to as to get a more successful outcome for him as a leader? If Charlie says to himself, “I want to take this leadership training because it will help me be a better coach and mentor to others in the organization someday,” then the aspect to his goal attainment has shifted. He’s moving from individual contributor to organizational leader and that is what is going to help him get what he wants.

How are you orienting the goals of folks in your organization?  Are you creating a positive, futuristic orientation of hope for the future, or are you trying to prevent a failure?

Orientation of our thinking matters!

3 Aspects of Healthy Organizational Competition

A couple weeks ago now, my eldest son challenged our family to fill out a bracket for March Madness. My son suggested that the prize would be that the winning couple (since all the kids are married now) would be exempt from the responsibility of providing a meal when we gather together over the Fourth of July weekend this year. Everyone agreed, and we submitted our brackets by noon early last week before all the games started. (Guess who is in first place at the writing of this blog…:) A businessman crossing out teams on his busted March Madness bracket

My family communicates on a regular basis, but once March Madness was in full gear we were all texting and calling each other to comment on certain game upsets, as well as predicted outcomes for upcoming games. Even my daughter, who did cheerleading and theater in high school, was focused on the "madness," checking the game results and how it affected her bracket by the hour. My wife, who is an ordained minister and hasn’t watched one college game all year, is constantly checking in on the games to see how her predictions are fairing.

This spirited competition motivated our entire family to think strategically about the projected outcome, remain engaged through the entirety of the event, and increased our communication with each other.

Wouldn't it be great if we could apply this same competitive spirit to motivate the teams in our organizations?

Yes, it would be great, and I believe we can! Here are the three things you need to integrate this healthy competitive spirit into your organization's culture:

Identify the Goal and the Vision

Tell your team what it is they are working towards and why. Make it clear and concise so that they could repeat it back to you or explain it well to someone else. Knowing the end goal will give your team direction and motivate them as they strive towards it.

What Not To Do: Assume that once you have communicated a goal or a vision that people in the organization automatically get it! One of the significant works of the leader is to keep repeating and bringing people back to the goal and the vision. Your role is often to prevent straying and distractions from the desired outcomes.

Identify Rules and Measurements

With March Madness, not being able to change your bracket is part of the fun and gamble. However, our workplace shouldn't be a gamble where we role the dice and see what happens, or blindly guess based upon no information. In order to create a healthy competition, there needs to be rules, parameters, and boundaries that the team members are expected to abide by. Fair play will be respected and rewarded as a way to encourage others, allowing them to trust the system created. There should be check-points to allow your team to measure how well they are doing and consider whether their strategy needs to be reevaluated to reach the goal.

What Not To Do: Let people off the hook if they don’t meet the goal. Accountability doesn’t always have to mean retribution, penalty, or punishment, but it should have enough teeth in it so that you build a culture of trust. According to Patrick Lencioni in his "5 Dysfunctions of a Team" work, a lack of accountability is a significant cause of organizational mistrust.

Identify the Reward

Think about how you can reward your team when goals are met. How might the reward motivate them personally as well as collectively? What is the reward and how would it be received by the individual you are rewarding? You don't want to give a reward to someone that you wouldn't want yourself, or perhaps what you would want differs from others. These are just a few things to consider before deciding what the reward will be.

What Not To Do: Make reward a drag. If your people are working long hours, please don’t schedule another team builder that is going to require more of their personal time. If a team builder is important, why not do it at 2pm on Friday? Rewards should be something they enjoy, not something they dread.


  • Look back at your calendar. How many times have you repeated the goals and visions for your organization this year? Are you assuming because you said it once two years ago that they are connected with it? Just because the goals and visions run around in your head all day, doesn’t mean it reaches the cerebral cortex of others in your organization.
  • Assess the level of accountability your team has with each other. Do they hold each other accountable, or is this your role? A high performing team holds each other accountable and doesn’t leave this level of responsibility solely with the leader.
  • Reward your team this week. You are almost at the end of the quarter and I bet you can find something that the group is doing really well. Why not reward them? Find something they enjoy and implement the reward this week. Don’t put it off. Schedule it now!

This IS More Important Than Any 2016 Goal You May Have

Over the past few weeks, I have thrown myself into the goal setting literature. My goal in this quest was to find something pithy and interesting to spur you on as you set your 2016 goals. I wanted to share with you something that you might not read anywhere else, such as:

  • How to envision your goals and make them SMART.
  • How to set up accountability for successful goal achievement.
  • How to celebrate goal achievement, or correct your course if you are falling short on a goal.

Businessman writing Idea 2016 concept. Can use for your business concept background.

Alas, while you can find lots of support in the leadership literature for all of the above, each time I began to write something I felt it had already been written. I was a bit discouraged about what I was going to share with you on this subject.

However, this morning I was reading an article in the WallStreet Journal by Ben Summers who teaches at West Point. Ben was illustrating his point using the example of how the United States treats enemy combatants who are captured. He compared this strategy to how, throughout history, our enemies have treated us.

In the article, he states, “Character is often measured in how we react when our values are most tested." (Summers, Ben. December 29, 2015. WallStreet Journal electronic version.)

It hit me. Perhaps it is not what we write as a goal, but how we implement it as a leader that matters. This is so true of every leader, regardless of organizational role. It is true for:

  • The CEO and the mail clerk in an organization
  • The pastor and the janitor in a church
  • The Vice President of Sales and the Manager of Operations
  • The university president and the adjunct professor
  • The store manager and the night security

We will all set some sort of goal in 2016. Even if we don’t write them down (which the literature says you should do), we will be thinking of what we want to accomplish this year.

Character Matters

Could it be that more important than the commitments we make is the character we show in implementing our goals? It is not only the what we are doing, but how we are accomplishing our goals that matters.

This morning I was doing some meditation. When I meditate, I will often use the Bible as a source of inspiration. I was reading from Psalm 15, the first 5 verses. In this reflection, the writer of these verses gives an interesting list of character traits for leaders to measure themselves against. Traits such as:

  • Integrity: Do what is right and speak the truth.
  • Loyalty: Treat others with respect and fairness.
  • Self-awareness: Hold fast to what is right; Be willing to admit wrong and make changes.

How Will You Implement

What an interesting list of character traits for us to compare ourselves to in 2016!

By now, many of you have already set some goals and some stretch goals. Good for you! The question is, will you implement them with integrity?

Will you implement them without talking poorly of someone else to make yourself look good? Will you implement them with self-awareness, even if you have to say you were wrong? Will you implement your goals while not sacrificing what you know is the right thing to do? Can you muster the courage to speak the truth even when it goes against popular consensus?

Perhaps as we review goals with our supervisors and accountability partners in 2016, we can talk not only about “the what" we hope to accomplish, but also “the how” we will go about it.

My hope for you as a leader is that you will set some really outstanding goals for 2016 and that you will implement them with character, principle, and integrity!

A Challenge

Here is a challenge for you! What if when you die, you face God. And God is not as interested in “what" you did on earth but “how" you did it? Would you do anything differently in your strategy for implementing your 2016 goals?

Homework: Spend some time reviewing your 2016 goals and considering "how" you will accomplish them. Write them down if you have not already done so.  Share your ideas with a friend or colleague and ask them to hold you accountable to implementing your goals with character, principle, and integrity this year.

If you take the homework challenge this week, or even sometime this month as you are starting your year, I would love to hear from you. Drop a comment below or send me an email and let me know!