How to Set Goals (And Meet Them)

It was exciting to watch the football stadium be built on campus. I remember seeing the plans, talking to the contractor, and running through all the necessary phases of preparation. Then I remember when we broke ground. That’s when it became real.

As the foundation was set and the building continued, I would occasionally wander over on the site, put my hard hat on, and just walk around. There were lots of different people doing lots of different things. But every person knew exactly what needed to be done, by when, and to what standard or specification.

When the stadium was complete, you could no longer see the evidence of all the interstitial steps. You only saw a football stadium. It was simply amazing. And none of it would have been possible if every person was not clear about their role, what was expected of them, and when they need to get what done.

That was a very complex construction effort masterfully simplified through goals, milestones, and progress marks. You can make setting goals complicated or simple. I prefer to keep things simple. My rule of thumb in leadership is complex things must be simplified. That's the only way to turn big ideas into actionable next steps.

THIS IS A GREAT FRAMEWORK TO USE AS YOU SET YOUR GOALS.

  1. Be abundantly clear about your desired outcome. If you’re not sure what success looks like, you won’t recognize it when you get there.
  2. Outline all the key milestones that must happen to achieve your desired outcome. This isn’t fun, but it’s necessary to work. Time spent planning is time well spent.
  3. Define the deliverable. Every milestone has a deliverable. It's vital you understand what that is so you can lead with confidence.
  4. Assign dates to every milestone. Everyone has the same amount of time; the difference is in how you use it. Without milestones, you’ll never know if you’re moving forward, backward, or sideways.
  5. Breakdown each milestone into a series of steps. Remove all ambiguity in reaching your milestones. This will take planning and patience, but the payoff will be worth it.
  6. Assign a date and owner to each step. Due dates are built in accountability measures to give feedback on when, where, and how we need to adjust over time. And even if you own every step, attach your name to it. 
  7. Put this into a format that can be easily referenced and quickly reviewed at least once a week. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on paper or electronic. Just make sure it’s somewhere readily accessible that will allow you to review often.

THE REAL SECRET IS IN HOW YOU HOLD YOURSELF OR OTHERS ACCOUNTABLE.

Your project or desired outcome may not need anyone other than yourself to complete. Even if you are the only one involved, you still need to find a way to hold yourself accountable. My suggestion is this:

·      Write down what you need to accomplish on Sunday night. This gets you focused on what needs to happen in the coming week.

·      Make sure you break it down into clear, actionable steps. Broad statements aren’t helpful. Be specific.

·      Schedule those steps on your calendar. If each step doesn’t make it to your calendar, it highly likely it won’t get done.

·      Conduct a mid-week progress check-up. This will give you a chance to course correct along the way.

·      Reflect on your progress at the end of the week to evaluate your effectiveness. Celebrate your wins, recalibrate the rest, and discard what is no longer important.

THIS MAY SOUND OVERLY RESTRICTIVE OR NOT EVEN DESIRABLE AT FIRST.

I know this can sound like a lot of work. I get it. But it’s vital that setting and delivering on your goals becomes part of your leadership. If not, you'll end up being one of those leaders who talk a big game but never delivers on what he or she says. That will, over time, undermined your credibility and could lead to your unseating.

Like any habit or discipline, it's going to take a tremendous amount of cognitive effort at first. It is going to be uncomfortable and unfamiliar, especially if you aren't used to setting and meeting goals for yourself. But the more you do it, the more natural it will feel.

You will be surprised just how much you can accomplish if you focus your thoughts and energy on a short-term goal. Don't believe me? Look no further than final exams in college, last-minute sales pitch opportunities in business, or election season in politics. When you focus your efforts and are clear about what you want to accomplish, you can advance with a momentum others only dream about.

MOVING FORWARD WHILE STANDING STILL

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of setting and delivering on your goals is overcoming the temptation to do a lot of things but remain unsure if you are making any progress. In the absence of clarity, your only option is too busy yourself doing a lot of things. That doesn't necessarily mean they are the right things.

Most of the time leadership feels like you’re standing still. It isn’t until you look back and see the big picture when you realize all the ground you’ve covered in a short, concentrated period. But you can’t do that without goals and your ability to track your progress against those goals.

That’s exactly what it was like for me while building the football stadium. There were weeks and months when it looked like nothing was happening. But that wasn’t true. Progress was being made every day.

Without a project plan, you only have your intuition to lean on. And institution can’t be your singular measure of progress. Removing the ambiguity of success and providing clarity around what’s next will ensure you arrive at the place you intended to in the beginning. The right goals will ensure you maximize your divine design in leadership and life.

REFLECT: How do you set goals? Is it an effective approach? Where did you learn those habits? Evaluate your current approach and determine whether you need to make any adjustments.