The Power of Goal Setting

The Lesson of Initiative
September 8, 2020

The Power of Goal Setting

It is important to be hungry and have ambition to change the status quo, with a clear vision of what is to be, but that energy must be directed at something specific. That is where goals enter the picture. David Schwartz, author of The Magic of Thinking Big, writes, “A goal is more than a dream; it’s a dream being acted upon.” In the words of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, “You will miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” We must assume he was referring to shots on a goal. Without specific goals at which to direct energies and ambitions, all efforts will be wandering generalities at best. Henry David Thoreau

wrote, “It is not enough to be busy, so too are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?” A leader must know the goal of his or her efforts. A leader must know clearly what is to be achieved. In short, leaders use the process of goal setting.

The story is told of two men who set out to accomplish similar results. One invested the effort to set goals properly and the other did not. At the end of a period of time, both men had worked diligently, but the one who had set a specific goal by far outperformed the other man. This is because everything the goal-setting man did was unconsciously directed toward his goal. If there was something to be done, it was first determined if it would assist him in accomplishing his goal. If it would, then he did it. If it would not help him hit his goal, he would not do it. You see, the goal-setting man had the advantage of priorities over the non-goal-setting man. He also had the advantage of channeling his efforts more effectively through the power of focus. On any given day, there are a number of “good” things to be done, but there are only a few “great” things to be done. And there can be only one “best” thing to do. A leader knows and does the “best” things on a regular basis.

As with hunger, goal setting is a discipline. It should never be a haphazard affair. As Tom Garriga, president of Tang Wei Martial Arts Institute, tells us, “A goal is an enemy to be conquered with a battle strategy and the commitment of a warrior. The leadership process is founded on resolve and commitment.” With this in mind, there are several components to the proper setting of goals that every leader should embody.


Goals Must Be Specific

Goals must be clear and exact. A leader cannot passionately pursue a generality. Examples of proper specific goals would be: “to win the Boston Marathon” or “to become president of the company” or “to sell one million dollars’ worth of products this year.” These are clear and precise. Examples of goals that may not be specific enough are: “to become a better parent” or “to improve in leadership ability” or “to maximize performance at work.” These are general feelings of what could be accomplished, but terms like “better parent” or “improve ability” or “maximize” are not specific enough to trap the leader into performing. Loose terms like these provide “wiggle room” for the leader. How can one know if he or she really became a better parent or improved his or her ability or maximized? Being specific with goals not only gives the leader a clear target at which to shoot, but it also leaves no room for doubt as to whether the target was hit. That is what it means to be specific.


Goals Must Be Written

A goal is not a goal until the leader has written it down. This may sound trite, but it is vitally important. As with goals that are not specific, goals not written down leave the leader room to maneuver if things don’t go as planned. But a written goal is hard to avoid.


Goals Must Be Set in Stone

The purpose of having a goal in the first place is to organize a leader’s thoughts and provide something specific for which to strive. The setting of a goal must be backed by commitment, or the whole process breaks down. Therefore, goals must be “set in stone.” Once decided upon, goals should not be changed. There is a saying, “Goals are etched in stone, but plans are drawn in sand.” As will be shown in the “Game Planning” section, it may be necessary to modify plans for how to attain a goal, but the goal itself must remain firm. Commitment says that whether the goal is accomplished using Plan A or Plan Z, the goal remains.


Goals Must Be Measurable

If a goal is to exert a motivating force upon the leader, then there must be a clear, quantifiable method to determine when the goal is accomplished. Can it be measured? How? How easily, and by whom? How quickly upon completion? These are the types of questions to answer when setting a goal to ensure that the leader knows when and how a goal is achieved. The ability to measure progress toward a goal also enables midcourse corrections and the ability for a leader to confront brutal reality concerning his or her progress.

In sports, there is nearly always a scoreboard that is big and obvious to all contenders and fans alike. It is present all the time with a constant, specific, measurable update on how the participants are performing toward the goal of winning. Goals for leaders must be just as clear and measurable.


Goals Must Be Realistic

A leader is not a leader without a vision for a better reality, but in the area of goal setting, this can be taken too far. It is one thing to have a big vision for a better future reality. And it is okay for that vision to seem wild and crazy to anyone except the leader. But the proper way to use goal setting to accomplish that enormous vision is through gradual steps. Each of these steps is represented by realistic, attainable goals. If the goal is too far beyond the leader’s reach, the leader will eventually become exasperated at his or her repeated failure to accomplish that goal. Goals must be realistic enough that the leader believes them achievable and is energized to do whatever it takes to accomplish them.


Goals Must Provide Motivation

On one hand, goals must be realistic, but on the other, they must be enough of a stretch to inspire the leader. They must be challenging. They must cause discomfort on the part of the leader and provide an impetus for increased performance. The best way to set a goal is to make sure it is between the ditches of “too enormous” on one side and “too easy” on the other. The leader must believe that he or she can accomplish the goal while at the same time being uncomfortable at the increased level of performance required to do so.


Goals Must Be in Line with Priorities and Values

In the struggle for achievement, there will always be temptations to “sell out” or compromise one’s beliefs. There may be conflicts of interest that crop up along the way, but under no circumstances whatsoever should a leader set goals that don’t ring true 64 WHAT A LEADER DOES with his or her true priorities and values in life. As the Bible says, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). Every leader should take care when setting goals to ensure that the goal itself is not at cross purposes with his or her core beliefs and that what’s required to accomplish the goal does not compromise his or her honor.


Goals Must Be Prominent

The leader must develop systematic ways of regularly reminding him- or herself of the goal. This can be done with signs or placards placed around the home or workplace or even in the car. This may mean telling a spouse or friend or work associate about the goal so he or she can continue to bring it up in conversation. This step should be done cautiously, however. The Bible warns against casting “your pearls before swine,” (Matthew 7:6), which means be careful with whom you share your most cherished thoughts, including personal goals. Sharing of goals should be done only with the closest of trusted individuals. Certain music or thoughts can trigger a leader to focus time and again on the goal. The point is that a leader should devise methods of keeping the goal prevalent and in view until the goal is achieved. A goal forgotten is a goal missed. Great leaders know to put pressure on themselves by developing creative reminders of their commitments to achievement.


Goals Must Have a Specific Time Period

Once a leader sets a specific goal, writes it down, commits to it, determines how to measure it, makes sure that it is realistic and motivational and in line with priorities and values, and devises methods for making it prominent, it is crucial that an appropriate time limit be determined. If a goal is set without a time limit, it becomes nothing more than a wish or fantasy. A time limit applies the final pressure on the leader, like a clock ticking during the running of a race. Motorcycle racers say, “When the gate drops, the talk stops.” That’s how it is with goals once a deadline has been established. A leader bolts from the starting line headed toward the goal and racing against the clock. The pressure of the clock is necessary to avoid the old saying, “When all is said and done, there is usually more said than done!"