Leadership Barometer 42 Impossible Goals

March 16, 2020

Does your organization establish goals that seem impossible to reach? If so, you are not alone.

Many organizations go through a negotiation process with individuals and teams to establish annual performance goals. Often, the person or team is asked for their opinion on the best that can be achieved in the following year.

Then, just for good measure, senior managers tack on an additional 15 to 25% and set that as the target goal.

When employees learn to anticipate this markup process, they instinctively sandbag their initial offer to account for the anticipated bump by senior management. It becomes a game of cat and mouse to establish reasonable stretch goals, and in the end, the organization and its employees suffer.

I believe a better process starts with an understanding of what the entire organization needs and then breaks down individual and team performance goals that will ensure the organization meets its commitments.

Quite often, goals set by senior managers seem unrealistic or unobtainable, which has a significant negative impact on trust. When this happens, employees take on a fatalistic viewpoint that the team has no chance to perform up to expectations. Team members hope they can achieve the goal, but deep down they don’t believe it is possible.

This sequence creates a Pygmalion effect where the negative outcome is nearly guaranteed.

The truth is, you cannot “hope” your way to success. You must believe and expect success for it to become reality.

When stretching for seemingly impossible goals, the most important ingredient is not technology, market size, manufacturing capacity, quality processes, sales force expertise, HR policies, or any other tangible enablers. The most important ingredient is belief.

This fundamental principle has been identified by philosophers and social psychologists numerous times throughout history. It seems that, through the ages, our civilization keeps discovering the same ideas. Here are a few famous quotations from historical figures you may recognize. Notice how they all say the same thing in different words.

Zig Zigler – “When you believe it, you will see it.”
Earl Nightingale – “We become what we think about.”
Brian Tracy – “If you think you can do it and hang on to that vision, you will accomplish it.”
Henry Ford – “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t… You are right.”
Lou Holtz – “If you get people to believe in themselves, they will set bigger goals.”
Maxwell Maltz – “What you believe will happen actually becomes physical reality.”
Norman Vincent Peale – “The power of positive thinking: No success occurs without it.”
Andrew Carnegie – “You will not be able to do it until you believe you can do it.”
Tony Robbins – “Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy.”
Napoleon Hill – “What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

This list is just a small sample of available quotations on the same topic. The phenomenon of creating success by visualizing it already being accomplished is well known.

Unfortunately, most teams in the working world have forgotten this time-honored wisdom. They wring their hands and lament that achieving the goal set out by management is simply impossible. Well of course it is impossible if they believe that.

Quite often, teams believe they can’t accomplish the goal because they cannot visualize how it could possibly be done. It is important to not get discouraged at the start because the “how” is not evident. Forget about how you will accomplish a goal; simply set out to believe that it will happen.

There are many tools available that can help you accomplish the goal. Resolve to find the right ones for your situation. If you do that, you will achieve the goal in ways you could not possibly imagine at the outset. Unfortunately, it is easy to experience the pangs of fear, especially in an environment of low trust.

The antidote is to teach individuals and teams to re-train their brains so that they drive out any thought of failure. Set the goal high, and then use all the power of mind over matter to make that goal a reality.

That sounds so simple, but it is very difficult to gain the skills required to believe rather than doubt.

Experts like the ones above, have taught us that if we reiterate an affirmative statement that we not only intend to meet the goal but to exceed the goal, then repeat that phrase in earnest at least twice a day for 30 consecutive days, we will actually bring forth a vital energy that was unavailable prior to the new mindset.

It is not the rote repeating of an affirmation that makes the difference. The method gives us a chance to catch the difference between the positive attitude and any negative thoughts or feelings that arise. We then have a moment of truth where we have the opportunity to examine what is holding us back.

As we address these self-limiting beliefs, we can come into mental and emotional alignment and resonance with the affirmation. We become energetically congruent with the vision, and that brings forth powers that are truly amazing.

Having this resonance and congruity changes everything. Of course, a positive mental attitude is not the only factor that will allow us to meet difficult goals.

We have to have a good plan, we have to execute well, we have to have high trust and great teamwork, we have to work incredibly hard, we must employ lean and six sigma principles, we need the right technology and resources, and, yes, we sometimes need some luck.

The truth is that by having the right frame of mind at the outset, we enable the other necessary elements to materialize in the physical world. When we expect and believe we will achieve the goal, sometimes the elements required to accomplish it materialize as if by magic. It is not magic; it is simply how the universe works.

I am not reporting anything new here, but I believe it needs to be reiterated, especially when goals for the next increment of time are being set. This is the time to create a new mindset that will allow you and your team to consistently reach or exceed seemingly impossible goals.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc.


Dreams Versus Goals

January 11, 2014

Sailboat rounding breakwater with spinnaker sail and mainA long term goal is a vision of the future that pulls you toward an objective. You can sail in a ship without a rudder, but you will have little chance of getting to an interesting place.

You will just sail around aimlessly wherever the wind blows, like many people do with their lives.

But, given a goal (also called vision) of your destination, you now have a rudder and can steer the moments of your life to keep you moving toward the goal. You have a much greater chance of reaching it.

Oh sure, there are going to be stormy days and nights. There will be times where there is no wind at all to propel your boat, but since you have the goal, no matter what comes up, you are always heading in the right direction.

Maybe you are not going as fast as you like, but at least it’s in the right direction. That is why goals are so important in our lives.

Brian Tracy once wrote,

“People with clear, written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.”

It is because the goal becomes like the pull of a magnet on a piece of steel. Once you get the proximity roughly right, then the end result is a foregone conclusion.

You instinctively accentuate those things that are aligned with your goal and de-emphasize those things that are not compatible with it. Problems are obstacles in the pathway, but they do not stop you, they teach you.

Having a goal actually shapes behavior as described very well by Jim Rohn when he said, “If you go to work on your goals, your goals will go to work on you. If you go to work on your plan, your plan will go to work on you. Whatever good things we build end up building us.” Goals help align the atoms and molecules in our body to enhance our chances of accomplishing great things in our lives.

With all of these advantages of goals, it is still a fact that most people do not have specific, written goals for their lives.

They have dreams to do things, like a bucket list, but they miss the true power of goals.

That represents a huge opportunity for many people to enhance the quality of their lives by simply doing some planning.

Here are 10 things that can move you from hazy and wishful dreams to productive and powerful goals.

1. Make your goals tangible

Vague goals or mental wish lists are a dime a dozen. We all have good intentions and dreams, but to really engage the power of goals, you simply must write them down. The act of committing goals to paper or keyboard means that you can no longer push them aside later on when the going gets tough.

Write your goals! Write your goals! Write your goals!

2. Goals should represent reach

Easy goals are not powerful because we can accomplish them without effort. Pie-in-the-sky goals are also not very powerful because we see them as impossible. To be effective, goals must be difficult to accomplish, but possible to achieve with great effort.

3. It is better to err on the side of too great a goal than too small

Since goals pull us in the direction we want to go, having an aggressive goal is much more valuable than an easy goal. As Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.” He actually did pretty well in his time, if you recall.

4. Tell other people your goals

Sharing your goals with people you respect and love has a way of legitimizing them in your mind. It also helps garner friend’s support and creativity as you work toward your goals.

“I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours” (Bob Dylan said that).

5. Refine the goals to just a vital few

Avoid having a long shopping list of goals. One or two good goals are enough. Reason: Goals help us focus critical energy on what must be done. If we have 15 goals for the next increment of time, we will get confused and discouraged.

“One solid goal is more powerful that 10 dreams.” (I said that.)

6. Repeat the key goals every morning and evening

Letting your goals sit idle on the shelf like a hoary old book renders them quaint, but useless. You must engage your subconscious mind continually to consider all the things you can do to pursue your goals. The best way to do that is to make a conscious affirmation in the morning and evening.

Some people say, “I don’t need to do that, I will not forget my goal.” They do not understand the power of affirmation. As you restate your goals daily, you call up the power of the universe to help you align your thoughts and actions to be consistent with your goals. This amazing power allows a magnet-like attraction that draws you toward the things you seek.

7. Form a group of people who understand and agree with your goals

Unless your goal is to be a hermit, you are better off with a Mastermind Group helping you. The concept of a Mastermind Group was generated by the work of Napoleon Hill as he prepared his philosophy called “The Science of Personal Achievement.”

Napoleon later summarized his findings in the book, Think and Grow Rich. Come to think of it, growing rich is usually a pretty good idea.

8. Celebrate the small steps along the way

Achieving a challenging goal is often a lot of work. For example, if your goal is to obtain a PhD degree, you will have to endure countless hours of study, writing, and even taking exams to verify your knowledge. For most people, the work involved in achieving a worthy goal is often tedious and unpleasant, but winners gladly engage in the effort because the smell of success is so alluring.

It is wise to celebrate the baby steps on the way toward your goal because it helps remind you why you are subjecting yourself to all the work in the first place.

9. Enjoy the ride

The ride is really the prize. Most people think the achievement is the big deal, and they are often deflated to find out that the most exhilarating part was during the struggle. They look at the house they just built for the past 15 years struggling all the way to juggle the bills and buy the materials, and they have a tendency to say, “There must be more to it than this.” Well, yes and no. The real fun was in the struggle, and the accomplishment was just the icing on the cake, but you do get to live in a nice house now.

10. Look back with pride

Every once in a while look over your shoulder to see how far you have come. The progress is often slow enough that we do not even recognize it: like watching a child grow up. We need to remind ourselves of what is really happening.

The best way I have found to do this is to list my accomplishments each year. I typically do that on New Year’s Eve. I am often blown away with the things that were accomplished that I never would have thought possible, yet the vast majority of them were enabled by my following the steps above.

Could I have done better? Of course! Did I do better than I thought possible? You betcha! Am I energized to do better next year? Just throw down the puck, and watch me go.


Go in the Right Direction

November 30, 2013

Onw Way SignI am writing a new book on trust. For some inexplicable reason, I do that every three years or so. One chapter is about change and why organizations feel compelled to change.

The quote at the start of the chapter is by Lao Tzu, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

The quote tickled my funny bone enough to use it in the header for the chapter. Now, as I reflect on the issue of change and continuous improvement, I have an additional insight that may be helpful.

We do not need to worry about the myriad of decisions required to chart the future.

Rather, all we need to do is verify we are heading in the right direction.

That will free us from over-planning and allow our creativity to determine the exact pathway to our future.

The wonderful thing about a vision is that it pulls us along from one revelation to the next one. We simply need to remain true to the vision and verify that each decision is pointed the right direction. The rest will take care of itself.

Lou Holtz uses the word WIN, which stands for “What’s Important Now.” It allows him to focus on the vision and do the right thing at every step to take him in that direction. He does not worry or hope or fret about all the details, he simply asks if what we are doing right now is consistent with the vision. If it is, then the step is correct.

Continuous improvement is the same way. We do not need to psychoanalyze all possible avenues ahead of time. We can take actions immediately as long as we are pointed in the direction we wish to go, and we will eventually achieve our goals.

Some people will say, “Yes, but what if there is a better choice, then you might miss the opportunity to do that.” People who continually say “Yes, but…” can find themselves searching for the ultimate perfect path and die from analysis paralysis or starvation. Far better to step out on the right path and keep moving toward the goal than spend years searching for the perfect path.

In “Success is a Journey,” the great Brian Tracy recalls how, as a young man, he traveled from Vancouver all the way to South Africa with some friends. It took them over a year to do it. The most harrowing part of the journey was when he crossed the Sahara Desert.

For one 500 mile stretch called the Tanezrouft, the road was marked by oil barrels every 5 kilometers. It turns out that that is exactly the curvature of the Earth, so at any time he could see exactly two oil barrels: the one he just passed and the one directly in front of him.

As soon as he would pass one oil barrel, the one behind him would disappear and a new one would pop up on the horizon in front of him. So the way he crossed the most dangerous desert on the planet was by taking it one oil barrel at a time.

So it is with reaching any difficult goal. You can do it by simply making sure you are heading in the right direction and taking it one oil barrel at a time. I believe that is a good way to visualize continuous improvement and a great model for achieving your goals in life.


Do Not Over Prepare

December 8, 2012

Stock PhotoSpeaking in front of a large audience can be a terrifying experience. Studies have shown that fear of speaking in public is stronger than the fear of death for many people.

Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to appear perfect? I will offer some insight into the dilemma and share an alternate path that leads to lower stress and better performance. I will use public speaking as an example and then generalize the concept to cover many other areas of our lives.

When we think about why people get nervous in front of a large crowd, it seems pretty obvious. We are afraid we are going to goof up, so we practice our part over and over, attempting to perfect and polish our delivery so we do not look stupid in front of others. The irony is that, after a certain point, the more we attempt to perfect our speech, the more likely we are to actually flounder with our delivery.

I witnessed a professional speaker who was giving a presentation to over 1000 other professional speakers. Talk about pressure! She had practiced her speech so many times she was assured that she would not make a mistake. But when she faced the stage lights, all of her preparation and build up actually made her goof up. Reason: when she got flustered and messed up a word or two, then she forgot her place in the memorized text and stumbled badly.

Finally, in desperation, she pulled out a typed paper with the words. After reading a few lines, she put the paper away and tried to go back to the memorized material. The same thing happened again; she totally blanked out at the first misstep and had to resort to her printed text again. It happened a third time as well. I expect that day will live in her mind as an example of a disastrous day. The audience was uncomfortable as well, although we all supported her and had great empathy for her pain.

Think about the alternative, where she would know her content cold because it came from her heart, not her rote memory. All she needed were a few key points to recall the topic areas, and she could wax eloquent with no miscues. It was her desire to be perfect that led to her being embarrassingly imperfect.

Here is a stark contrast to the speaker described above. At that same speaker’s conference, Brian Tracy, the great author, speaker, and philosopher, was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the National Speakers Association. The award is the highest honor a speaker can receive, and Brian proceeded to demonstrate why he was worthy of the award.

He got up to give a 10-minute acceptance speech: one of the most important speeches of his life, out of thousands of speeches. As he started the speech, he had no idea what was about to happen to him. His lavaliere microphone started to die, and the audience could only hear every other word. Horrified, the sound technician rushed on stage with another lavaliere mic, and Brian carried right on as if nothing had happened. Two minutes later the replacement mic also died in the same way. Brian just stood there smiling at the audience until the technician came out with a hand held mic, and Brian was able to finish his speech.

He did not get flustered, or angry, or sad, he just stood there smiling until the situation had cleared. Doing that in front of 1000 professional speakers took real poise. Brian was even gracious to the bumbling technician, who was undoubtedly dying a thousand deaths over the incident. Brian was sincerely grateful for the honor and was not about to let a cantankerous sound system mess up his moment.

My method of rehearsing a program is to mock up the platform and go over a program from my prepared key points a few times, but I make no attempt to memorize any part of the actual wording except for the very first sentence and the very end of the program. Brian Tracy taught me that the first sentence should be memorized verbatim. His reasoning was that “well begun is half done.” After the first sentence rings out, then it is as if I am having a natural conversation with the assembled group like I was talking with a friend over the kitchen table. This method allows me to be more authentic and relaxed. If I make a mistake and stumble, it is not the end of the world at all, I just look for ways to make it humorous.

Seth Godin had a blog entry I read recently about the same concept. He wrote, “Perfecting your talk, refining your essay, and polishing your service until all elements of you disappear might be obvious tactics, but they remove the thing we were looking for: you.” He even implied that some top performers inject some kind of faux imperfection in their routine because it tends to endear them to the audience. Personally, I don’t need to inject imperfections in my programs; they have enough of them naturally. I am okay with an occasional goof, because it makes me more human and credible to my audiences, and that is a very positive thing. Somehow having them join me in laughing at myself is a kind of bonding action with the audience.

The same kind of problem exists for all of us in many different areas of our lives. By trying to be perfect (which we are not) we put immense pressure on ourselves. We get uptight as we try to rehearse every possible situation and then lose our train of thought in the complexity of the moment. For example, the other day I was at a very formal dinner, and I was trying to put on my best manners. In my attempt to be perfect and charming, I was paying more attention to the conversation than to what my hands were doing, and I spilled a full gravy boat of salad dressing all over the table. Oops!

When we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, we tend to cause the very thing we are trying to prevent. The antidote is to simply be yourself with all your warts and problems. Relax, so you can roll with the situation naturally, and you will come out ahead most of the time. People are going to forgive you, even though you feel totally embarrassed at the time. The trick is to think about the major issues, but not try to work out the fine detail in advance. Let your natural self take care of the fine grain actions. Know your material but avoid over preparation.

We need to understand that nobody goes through life without making some embarrassing gaffes. What makes the difference is how we react when an unexpected snafu occurs. If we are calm and make light of our foible, the incident will pass, and our long term credibility will be intact with the embarrassing moment nothing more than a humorous footnote: like my spilled salad dressing.

Try this big-picture method of preparing yourself for your next important meeting, speech, or social event. If you prepare and then relax to present naturally, you will usually come out just fine. If you are not good at coming up with a funny line after a mistake, then try taking some improvisation classes. They will help you become more spontaneous with humor. Another organization that has great techniques is Toastmasters. Get involved with your local chapter.