We understand the power of goal setting. Our daily life (and often livelihood) is driven by goals measured in time, profit, revenue, units, followers, and more. Yet outside the workplace, many of us - leaders included - fail to develop goals in steering action, decision, and accomplishment in our personal lives.

Why don’t we set goals?

The psyche of goal setting is complex, but at the core of our ego fear of failure steers avoidance of goal setting for otherwise highly accomplished, driven, and intelligent people. It’s easier to navigate life with a “shoot from the hip” approach versus facing the 1-5-10 year plan.

Why do we avoid it?

During a 2013 TED Talk, Sheryl Sandberg mobilized global goal dialogue when she challenged viewers with “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?” The majority of responses surrounded goals and passions.

A variety of influences blend together in delivering [perceived] pressure around goal setting: time, confusion, energy, and fear. But at its core, here are the real reasons we’re afraid to set goals:

 

 

  • Uncertainty: We don’t know how to get started. We don’t know how to set goals, or break them down from long term to short term.
  • Purpose: We don’t know what our goals are or where we want to be.
  • Fulfillment: We don’t know what makes us happy.
  • Measurement: We don’t know how to measure our goals or success.
  • Fear of Outcome: We’re afraid of our goals. We’re afraid of failure and change. Often, we’re also afraid of success.
  • Perfection: We want perfection and think we can’t reach it. We don’t want to set goals too low, and don’t want to set them too high.
  • Novelty: We just want to focus on the work we like doing day-to-day.
  • Resources: We don’t know what tools we need to achieve our goals.
  • Energy: We’re overwhelmed by the effort needed to plan our goals.
  • Support: We don’t have a strong network of encouragement, support, accountability, and most important – to recognize successes.


It’s 2015 – time to realize an oyster of opportunity. There is no reason to let challenges stand in the way of realizing greater potential.

Now What?

Developing goals doesn’t have to be intimidating. While it’s a great way to challenge oneself, it should also be fun. Goal setting is an exciting, energizing journey that helps shape our short and long term visions, steer decisions, and lead us toward desired destinations – greater fulfillment, accomplishment, and purpose. It’s an investment that requires little risk for big return, and fortunately, getting started is easy:

 

 

  • Keep it Simple: Aim for only 1-3 goals per year
  • Identify your Passions: What drives your purpose, generates excitement and energy, or makes you feel fulfilled? Start there.
  • Set Related Goals: Develop goals that nurture and advance your passions.
  • Break it Down: Make larger goals into bite size pieces – be realistic.
  • Pick a Deadline: Choose dates to achieve them by, for example, “within three months” or “by end of year”.

Even with a simple goal-setting approach, we set ourselves up for success and are [almost] guaranteed to be further ahead because of it. Without goals or metrics to measure success, we don’t know how far we can or will go from “here” – our starting point, place, or date. Vision boards are also a powerful tool in supporting visualization of goals and providing daily motivation – Muhammad Ali is famous for it.

It’s no surprise the world’s best leaders rigorously set, visualize, and manage goals to lead remarkable progress in work and life. Through following simple yet steadfast principals, they pursue goals judiciously and stay hungry for more. Here are examples shared by standout leaders as their secrets to goal success:

 

 

  • Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin: Make your goals measurable so you know if your plans are working.
  • Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx: Visualize your goal in specific, concrete ways.
  • Michael Jordan, Retired NBA Pro: Break it down. Set short-term goals to achieve them step by step, leading you toward a larger goal.
  • Steve Jobs, Co-Founder of Apple: Be Focused. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas. You have to pick carefully.
  • Warren Buffett, CEO Berkshire Hathaway: If it’s not the most important thing, avoid it at all costs.
  • Oprah Winfrey, CEO Harpo Productions: Goals need to be set, and set high.

Lastly, embrace the unexpected. Unanticipated situations occur, so be prepared to adjust goals along the way – and don’t count it “failure” – learn and move on. For every success story, one (or two) of failure precedes or follows. Where success lies is overcoming fears to navigate challenges, reflect, and persevere in reaching goals. As the adage goes, “Shoot for the moon – even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”