Facilitating Achievement through Setting Goals — Together

Missing the mark

Good leaders set good goals: for themselves as well as for their subordinates. But exceptional leaders set good goals with their subordinates, then help them to achieve these goals. How often do we put that into practice?

Several years ago, as a “middle manager,” I met with my supervisor for my annual review. I was told that my leadership style was too “laid back.” His suggested goal for me? “Be proactive.” I asked him for clarification. His response? “Just be more proactive.”

With this direction in mind, I made an effort to use his vague advice by being more proactive with my people. The only problem was that my idea of proactivity and his did not coincide. I was unknowingly aiming at the wrong targets. This was not made clear until a year later. But the specific targets were not defined; instead, I continued to hear “be more proactive.”

Along with the nonspecific direction, he also gave the impression that I was failing in my responsibilities because I couldn’t meet his vaguely described expectations. I was being set up for failure, and I’m not certain that it was intentional.

A good leader should take a cooperative approach to goal-setting for his direct reports; in doing this, he becomes a facilitator. It is helpful to remember the Latin root of facilitate is facilis: to make easier. Specific goals should be suggested, and resources identified and provided that can assist in achieving those goals.

Good goals are well-defined, have a timeline, and should be measurable. Ambiguous goals will lead to poor outcomes. And as leaders, we should ask ourselves regularly: “Am I making it easier for my direct reports to achieve our mutual goals?” If I am standing in their way, then I cease to be a leader.

On target

We are all familiar with “SMART” goals.[1] This sometimes seems trite, but the principles are sound. If your approach is based on sound principles, it has greater potential for success. Call the goals what you want, but SMART goals really are smart. In general, goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

I want to inject a side note here. Inject some positive feedback into your evaluations and reviews. Dale Carnegie reminded us to be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” Even the poorest performance has something praiseworthy in it. Sincere praise can be an effective way to promote improved performance. One of my high school English teachers used to write “Noble Effort” on the essays that didn’t measure up. I have not forgotten that.

Remember, we are leading people. Look for the good and praise it. Support them at every opportunity. Help them to see their value to your organization; help them to see their worth as individuals.


[1] Doran, G. T. (1981). There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management Review, Volume 70, Issue 11(AMA FORUM), pp. 35-36.

If I Could See Clearly Now

A good leader sets clear expectations.

One of the challenges of leadership is in motivating others to achieve goals. But this is essential in making progress in your organization. It is especially important that the two people be on the same page as they work together. Brian Tracy said “Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.” With that in mind, why would a good leader fail to share his expectations with those who report to him?

Some things are critical to your success.

  1. Set specific, relevant goals. Vague goals do not help anyone achieve the desired end. I have written before about the time during an annual review when a supervisor told me I needed to be more proactive. When I asked for clarification so I knew what to focus on, I was told “just be more proactive.” I pursued that goal for a year, but not in the direction my supervisor had wanted. I still don’t know exactly what was wanted.
  2. Set deadlines and checkpoints. A good goal must have a target date. And frequently there are intermediate steps that should be checked. Sometimes it is just good to have a progress check. These should be discussed together so that expectations are clear. There is nothing worse than being called in to account for progress on a goal without warning, and being chastised because you are not on track. Just as runners measure their split times at given points, leaders must also take measure periodically and give meaningful feedback to their team members.
  3. Make sure that the metrics for measuring progress are clearly understood. Thomas S. Monson has said “Where performance is measured, performance improves. Where performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.” But both sides must be using the same measuring stick. I was once called out (at an unscheduled checkpoint) for falling short on a goal. By the measurements I used, the numbers had doubled from the previous year; I thought I was making good progress. But that wasn’t how my supervisor saw it. Be clear on what you are measuring and how you will measure it.
  4. Praise progress, and don’t focus on shortcomings. Dale Carnegie taught to begin with praise and honest appreciation, then to call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. The phrase that has stuck with me for 40 years is “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” He also suggested that the leader give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  5. Never ever blindside anyone in an evaluation, not even in a crisis situation. This goes along with the clearly defined checkpoints and clear metrics. If you must call an additional intermediate meeting, give the individual some indication of what will be discussed (maybe not if you are firing the individual with cause). If he or she can prepare, the meeting will more productive for both of you.

John Akers said: “Set your expectations high; find men and women whose integrity and values you respect; get their agreement on a course of action; and give them your ultimate trust.”

Isn’t that a significant part of leadership? We must show trust as well as earn it. In setting clear expectations of others we are doing both.

Have clear expectations, and make them known!

The Resolution Not Written (is only a wish)

The New Year symbolizes a new beginning. Even though nothing has actually changed: Thursday follows Wednesday just as in any other week. But the New Year can motivate each of us to make needed changes in our lives. Without this perceived change we would lack that motivation.

New Year’s resolutions date back to Roman times, when vows were made to the god Janus (January’s namesake) to be kinder to others, in return for success in the coming year. I am not aware of how well this worked. Some say the origin of making New Year’s resolutions rests with the Babylonians, who reportedly made promises to the gods in hopes they’d earn good favor in the coming year. They often resolved to get out of debt (sound familiar?).

In America, the Puritans encouraged their children to skip the parties and spend their time reflecting on the old year and contemplating the new year. Like the Romans, the resolutions were mostly of a moral nature. This habit became engrained in American tradition, particularly the Protestant ethic, and survives to this day. However, the nature of the resolutions has changed over the years.

I have never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. The general attitude is that they are made just to be broken, and what’s the sense in that? In January, the gyms are full for a few weeks, then the crowds taper off. In like manner, the restaurants with good salad bars are also crowded in January. People desire to make the desired changes, but lack the willpower to continue once the original motivation fades.

My habit has been to set goals around my birthday each year (another somewhat arbitrary change that we measure) and review and revise them at New Years. That has worked best for me.

I recently ran across a blog post from Chris Taylor, entitled Planning to Plan. Chris has successfully used his “Annual Planning Review” for a number of years. You can link to it through his post, which you will find at http://www.actionablebooks.com/en-ca/blog/planning-to-plan/ . I feel that this is one of the best descriptions I have seen on how to set goals for personal improvement. And it applies to business and other goals as well.

Chris breaks the process down into three steps: 1) Reflect; 2) Visualize; and 3) Plan. Then he discusses the “what” and “why” of each step.

Of course, this requires some time: ideally some quiet time. That isn’t always easy to find. But look at it this way: every investment has a cost; that cannot be avoided. Setting goals is an investment in yourself. With the investment of a little time on a regular basis, you can put yourself on the path to achieving your goals and dreams. And when you reevaluate, you can make sure you are still on the right path.

Stephen Covey’s seventh habit is Sharpening the Saw. He explained that as we renew ourselves, we create growth and change in our lives, and increase our capacity to cope with the challenges that confront us. So skip a bowl game and do something will provide a greater benefit to you. Honestly, six months from now will it make a difference that you watched the Cheapo Depot Consolation Bowl and Half-Time Show on January 2nd?

As a leader, your greatest asset is you. If you won’t invest in yourself, don’t expect anyone else to. Make time for self-evaluation and self-improvement. It doesn’t matter when you reflect, visualize, and plan; what matters is that you do it consistently.