The Strange Invisible Target – Goal Setting and Leadership

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As I write this, I’m on a plane flying from Austin, Texas to Denver, Colorado. Do you think that the pilot would have taken off from the airport aimlessly, without any kind of flight plan? If you go on a cruise, does the captain drift without direction and hope that the ship makes it to the intended destination? Both of those questions seem ridiculous, don’t they? You’d never trust a pilot or a captain who would wander pointlessly – how can you get somewhere without a set course? Despite how obviously useless having no direction may seem, it’s something that I see all of the time.

Before you read further take a quick quiz/ assessment by answering the following questions “yes” or “no”

1. Do you have personal goals?

2. Are the in writing?

3. Do you have short term , mid term and long terms goals?

4. Does your company have company goals for this year?

5. Are they in writing?

6. Does every employee know what they are?

7. Does the company have long term goals?

How did you do? OK now back to our regularly scheduled article.

In the last few months, I’ve spoken at several corporations across the country, doing keynotes and training sessions. When I conduct an exercise about short, mid, and long term goals, I’m astounded. Why? I’m astounded because 98% of the participants don’t have goals of any kind. How do I know? I ask them. They simply don’t have them, and offer several interesting reasons as to why:

“I don’t have the time – I’m just too busy.”

“I haven’t really thought about it.”

“It doesn’t seem that important.”

Do we have a new generation that doesn’t have goals? No the people in the sessions are a wide range of ages from 20- 60. I am very concerned that people are operating the personal lives with out a real purpose and a plan. ( written or other wise) This is not conjecture- this is what they are telling me. So why do people operate their lives with out direction of goals? The question is a compelling one I cant answer.

So then I wonder does this also happen with companies? Surely the CEOs, CFOs, and executives in companies set goals, right? Well, a few months ago, I was facilitating an executive retreat.

“Do you have strategic goals and objectives for 2007?” I asked them. After a few seconds of awkward silence, the CEO spoke up quietly:

“Well, sort of.” I said “either you do or you don’t.” Silence.

“Do you have strategic goals and objectives for 2008?” I continued. More silence.

“Um, we should probably work on that,” muttered the CFO, raising an eyebrow.

“Do you have a long term plan for the next 3 to 5 years?” They all shifted uncomfortably in their seats. I already knew what the answer was going to be.


While many Fortune 500 companies have comprehensive and well articulated plans, I’m finding many mid to small sized companies that have no plans whatsoever.

(don’t argue the point I see it all over the country) Why is that? There are several possible reasons.

oTheir bias against goal setting in their personal life can transfer to their company- so because they don’t have goals in the personal life, they don’t have them in the company either. A company that is successful despite itself.

oThey’re so caught in the day-to-day operations that they only serve urgent issues at the expense of the company’s future- this leads to a form of myopic thinking where they are concentrating only on today, next week and this month. They are caught up on the ” what is on fire syndrome”, ruled by urgency.

oThey founded a business because they were good at something, but never gained the skill of strategic planning- so they don’t have a critical skill to build the companies long term future.

How can leaders without an actual plan lead companies with hundreds of employees who have faith in their leadership? It’s very disconcerting. If you are a leader, what can you do? Here are a few suggestions.

oModel goal setting in your personal life- I believe the leaders have to mirror the behavior they want to see in their employees. Show employees you are doing comprehensive goal setting in your personal life and encourage them to do the same.

oEncourage employees to set personal goals, and provide training if needed- if you take the time to do training on this topic- you will illustrate how important it is.

oTake the time to bring your team together to set company goals yearly- make sure that you meet with your executive team and set goals for the following year that are measurable and specific. Set goals for revenue , cash flow, profit margins etc. if yiu cant do it on your own bring in outside help. Yes it can be costly but you cant afford not to.

oCommunicate the goals and objectives to all employees on a consistent and regular basis- if it is not communicated it doesn’t exists. Make sure to communicate it frequently and give regular updates on the goals and where you stand as a company. It will drive employees to help them make the goals.

Keep in mind that people cannot hit a target that they’ve never identified. In the words of Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”