I’m an optimist by nature. I believe the best in people, see the possibilities in any situation regardless of how bad, and love stretch goals. These tangible expressions of optimism have defined and benefited my leadership.
Yet, there are downsides to such optimism. One in particular which has inflicted my leadership (thus the organizations I’ve led) is the belief that I can effectively manage a large number of priorities at one time. Yes, it’s the overzealous conviction that I am capable of doing many important things, all really well, and all at the same time.
But here is the reality, to do our best work we must be single minded, we need to focus and do just a few important things at one time. All the research that’s been done over the past few years tells us this much. Sure there appears to be some outliers who can manage lots of priorities, but they are a micro minority (the definition of outlier) or, more likely, just good with smoke and mirrors. Which means most of us (do I dare say – all of us) can’t juggle many priorities at one time.
It’s the Leadership Grand Illusion – believing, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that we’re a part of the micro group of outliers that effectively management a high number of priorities at one time.
So, I had to come to grips with this reality and quit buying into the Grand Illusion. I’ve worked to bring discipline to my personal priorities as well as SpringHill’s. It’s been a painful process for an optimist like me, but it’s been necessary (and significantly more effective).
How have I (and we) done this? There are three simple rules that I’ve applied personally as well as organizationally:
- Have no more than Three Priorities (of the day, week, month, year, etc.) at one time
- Then be crystal clear about the Top One of the Three.
- Finally focus, talk, look at, work and Obsess over Three.
It’s that simple.
What’s not simple is the discipline, control of that optimism, and ignoring the Grand Illusion that is required to tackle only three priorities at a time, to pick the first priority of the three, then obsess about those three.
Now the issue, especially if you’re an optimist with a long list of priorities, is how do you identify the Three and the One of the Three?
Again, it’s simple but difficult at the same time – you need to ask and answer the following two questions
- “If I/we can only work on three priorities, which ones should they be?”
- “Of these three priorities, if I/we could only accomplish one, which one would we choose?”
So that’s it.
Really simple, incredibly effective – Commit to these three rules, then rigorously debate and honestly answer these two questions, and finally obsess over the answers until they’re completed. When you take these three steps you’re on your way to being a focused (and really effective) leader.
New Year’s resolutions have gotten a bad rap lately. There’s much written about how so many people make resolutions at the beginning of a new year but, in the end, so few actually keep them. So the advice of many self help writers is simply this – why bother, why put yourself through this process, why set yourself up for failure?
But this kind of logic isn’t how great organizations or movements are built, world changing action is taken, personal transformation happens, or mountains moved. Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or simply a personal goal or new calling, you’re taking a risk by setting them, it’s the reality of goal setting.
But this reality should never stop us from setting a goal and then working to achieve it. Just because most people don’t fulfill their New Year’s resolutions certianly isn’t a reason to avoid them. Instead understanding that failure is the accepted risk we take to create change, isn’t a reason to opt out, it’s the reality we embrace to increase our chances of success.
Now how do we increase our chances of succeeding, in achieving our New Year’s resolutions? By remembering these five principles of goal setting:
- Reality – Know that we tend to be overly optimistic with short-term goals and too pessimistic about long-term goals – so we adjust our goals accordingly.
- Focused – Have only a few resolutions. The less, the better the chance of success.
- Written – Write them down then review them on a regular basis (click here to learn about meetings with yourself)
- Guided – Share them with people who can provide wisdom and encouragement.
- Downside -Remember that even if we fall short of achieving our resolutions, we’ll most likely come significantly farther along our journey then we would have if we’d never set the goal in the first place.
So let’s make 2017 our best year yet. Best, not because we avoided failure by not setting challenging goals, but because we made a life changing New Year’s resolution, then worked like crazy to make it a reality.
As Theodore Roosevelt said – “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat.”
Do you want to assure your team accomplishes a goal, task or project? Then there’s five steps, as a leader, you must take to increase the odds of your team being successful. By the way, in the spirit of transparency, I write these as much as reminders to myself as I do to be helpful to you.
Put the goal, task or project clearly and concisely in writing – writing down a goal, task or project with the accompanying plan gives it a sense of permanency and significance. Making it clear includes defining success so your team knows when it has won. Also outline the steps and resources needed to win. Make sure it’s concisely written because by doing so it will make it more memorable.
Measure and track progress on a regular basis – How often you measure and track your progress depends on duration of the goal or project. The shorter the horizon the more frequent you must measure and track. The farther out the horizon is the less frequently you need to measure and track progress. But no matter the horizon, don’t ever believe you can stop or avoid regular tracking and measurements. If you do, your team will soon flounder. The depth of your measuring and tracking will also depend on the track record of your team.
Provide consistent and regular feedback – If you’re appropriately consistent in measuring and tracking then you’ll be in the right place and posture to provide timely and helpful feedback. Feedback includes recognizing the good progress and providing correction if necessary.
Stay with it till it’s accomplished and finished – Doing these five steps requires discipline on your part as a leader. If you lose sight of a goal, task or project eventually our team will as well. What you chose to focus on will be what your team focuses on, and what you chose not to focus on (or lose focus on) will eventually be what your team choses not to focus on as well.
- Celebrate – By doing these first four steps you will increase your team’s chances for success. This last step increases your team’s chances of success on the next project, task or goal. So celebrate, thank, reward, and affirm the good work your team does and they’ll be ready for the next challenge that comes their way.
As a result my Doctor recommended I take a LDL lowering drug. Instead I told him I wanted time to see if getting my health back in order would do the trick. So he gave me 6 months to see if I could move the LDL needle down.
So I set a stretch goal of lowering my LDL to 95 before my return visit. Then I created a plan which gave me the best chance to drop my LDL 80 points. Now 6 months later, having executed my plan to the best of my ability, I went back to the Doctor to learn if I achieved my goal.
And, as with many goals, I received both good news and bad news. The good news is I lowered my LDL by 53 points and the Doctor isn’t prescribing any medication. But the bad news is I’m still 27 points from my goal.
So I’m both satisfied and disappointed. Satisfied that my highest goal – taking no drugs has been temporarily avoided, disappointed because I didn’t reach my goal, all of which provides some important lessons about setting and missing goals:
- Because we tend to perform up to but not beyond our goals, setting a stretch goal puts us farther down the road than we’d have gone had our goals been more conservative even if we fall short of our goal.
- It’s easy to be unrealistic in setting short –term goals (and to easy to be conservative in setting long-term ones).
- Even when we fall short of our goals there’s always residual benefits from good performance (lower weight, better sleeping, etc.).
- Just because we don’t achieve our goals by the date set it doesn’t mean they’re unachievable, it just means, if we stay resilient, it’s only a matter of time before we cross the finish line.
How do you climb a mountain? As my wife Denise and I experienced on a recent climb up a southern California mountain, you do it one step at a time.
This is true of any big goal or vision we have as individuals or as organizations. Our best chance at success is by breaking big goals down into smaller, more manageable steps, and regularly measuring ourselves against those steps.
But too often we set these “Big Hairy Audacious Goals – BHAG’s” but don’t make the effort to break them down into the steps necessary to take every year, quarter, month, week, and day to accomplish those BHAG’s. Which, if you think about it, is a bit like my wife and I sitting at the bottom of the mountain, looking up at it and envisioning being at the top, but not mapping out the trail or knowing the elevation change or the miles we’ll need to walk or the time and effort required to reach the summit.
But it’s this kind of planning that’s required to break down a BHAG into manageable steps. And it’s by these manageable steps that we’re able to measure our progress. And by measuring our daily progress we’re able to keep focused on the work before us and not become overwhelmed by the large amount of work we have to do before getting to the top of the mountain.
At SpringHill our Big Hairy Audacious Goal is to serve 260,000 campers a year by 2025 (for context, we’ll serve about 55,000 in 2013). It’s an exciting goal, but to increase the likelihood of it becoming a reality we had to break our BHAG down into year by year goals, including our 2013 goal. Then we broke down our 2013 goal by season (we have three seasons a year versus four quarters), followed by monthly goals, and finally weekly goals, or steps, we call a split.
Then every week, as a team, we review these steps or splits. If we’re on track each week, then we know, ultimately, we’re on track this week to reach our mountain top of 260,000 campers by 2025.43.928283-85.286682