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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Dec 9, 2018

As the end of the year fast approaches, we take a look at goal setting - something we all know a lot about, and yet we’re lousy at it. Here are four ideas that might help.

Welcome to episode 22 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges.

If I was to ask you “Tell me about the best approaches to goal setting?”, you’re pretty likely to mention SMART goals. We all know goals work best when they’re Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. And yet as human beings we are still pretty lousy at setting and following through on goals. Today I want to focus on four quick tips for setting better goals. 

A few years back I set a goal for myself - I said “I want to become a better cook”. So I dutifully picked up Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals book - that sounded pretty achievable. I picked out a meal and got to work. Well, 90 minutes, one fennel and three fry pans later, the meal still didn’t look anything like the photo in the book. Plus I discovered that Jamie hadn’t factored in cleaning up time to the 15 minutes. I gave up.

Around the same time I set myself another goal - “I will go for a run every day of the week except Sunday”. Now I had tried running before, even setting a goal to run three times a week. But the inevitable happened - Monday it was a little cold, Tuesday I just wasn’t feeling it, Wednesday there was the sound of rain on the roof - and so on until Saturday. To make up for the lost days I would then run three times as far on Saturday and injure myself, knocking out running for another week. In contrast, my “run every day except Sunday” strategy has held up for over a year. So what made that goal stick, unlike my goal around becoming a better cook?

The first difference is word choice - there’s a big difference between “want” and “will”. If you say you want to do something, you’re indicating a preference. If you say you will do something, you’re stating a commitment. Commitments trump preferences any day. Always make sure you express your goal as a “will” statement.
Second is the middle part of SMART goal setting - Achievable. This is partly about setting a goal that you think is possible. But it’s also about setting goals that you can actually mark off as complete. The beauty of the “run every day except Sunday” goal is that I either completed it in a particular week, or I didn’t complete it that week. Test the wording of your goal to make sure it is something you can actually mark off as complete.

The third key for me was clearly picturing how the process of completing the goal would make me feel. The reality of starting a run on 46 year old knees is not pretty - the first few steps never feel great. But one minute into the run I always feel great, so I focus on that moment as I roll out of bed. 
And the fourth key is identifying why the goal matters to you. If you set a goal that doesn’t matter to you, just cross it out - you’re never going to achieve it. For me, running is about keeping fit for my family and my work, both of which I love. Running was part of a broader purpose.

As you set goals for yourself, remember to say “will” not “want”, make it something you can mark off, picture the benefits of the process, and identify why the goal matters to you.

That’s our final Leadership Today Podcast for 2018 before we take a break. We’re on track to sail through 10,000 podcast downloads around about Christmas Day. And I really appreciate the feedback people have provided about the podcast, and for you taking the time to listen. I hope it has been helpful in your leadership development. 

Over the remainder of December and into January we will be featuring four of our most popular episodes, before we kick off again in February. Best wishes for you and your loved ones for 2019.