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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Feb 11, 2022


When we’re faced with an obstacle or opportunity, it’s important to change the plan, and not the goal.



Welcome to episode 124 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we’re considering why, when we’re faced with an obstacle or opportunity, it’s important to change the plan, and not the goal.

We face change every day of our lives. In leadership roles it can be hard to know how to handle ongoing change and uncertainty. When change occurs one of the criticisms leaders might face is that they’re constantly moving the goal posts. People might feel like things are shifting all the time and therefore become confused and demotivated. There are some simple ways to avoid this criticism and, more importantly, help people remain clear and motivated.

One of the issues is that leaders often confuse goals and plans, using the terms interchangeably. As a result, people can feel rightly confused about what they should be doing. A simple way of thinking about a goal is that it’s like a flag on a hill. It’s the end point that we are heading towards. Just like getting to a flag on a hill though, there are multiple pathways that we might take. A plan is like one of these pathways - it’s the approach we have chosen to reach the goal. Our organisations and teams are constantly faced with opportunities and threats. These might block some pathways or make new pathways available. Great leaders are attuned to these changes. They are willing to change the plan to allow for these opportunities and threats. After all, there’s little point trying to stay on a pathway that is blocked. But great leaders also try to keep the goal constant. They explain how any changes to the plan are to help the team reach the ultimate goal. They are also clear upfront - they don’t confuse or combine the goal and the plan. 

Less effective leaders keep shifting and changing goals when faced with opportunities and threats. If the plan doesn’t work, they also throw out the goal. This confuses people, as it requires a new goal and plan. It also makes all the work performed to date feel like a waste of time.

So next time you are faced with an opportunity or obstacle, focus on any changes required to the plan while reinforcing that the goal has remained unchanged. Your people will thank you.