Most Leaders Stink at Setting Goals – Here’s Why

GoalCan we be real with each other for just a minute? I may be branded a leadership heretic by what I’m about to say but I’ve got to be honest. Here goes: Setting goals is hard work. It can be tedious. It can be as enjoyable as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. I sometimes struggle with the process. And I’m not alone.

Most leaders stink at setting goals.

Why? It’s pretty simple actually: We confuse tasks with goals.

To illustrate my point, take a look at these statements and see if you can determine which are goals and which are tasks:

  1. Reduce my body weight to 182 pounds or less by March 3.
  2. Find two friends to exercise with by January 15.
  3. Keep a food journal for the next 30 days to track my caloric intake.
  4. Exercise 3-4 times a week for the next six months.

You may be wondering why it’s even important to distinguish between goals or tasks. After all, if stuff is getting done, isn’t that what matters? Well, you can be productive in accomplishing a lot of tasks, but if those tasks aren’t connected to accomplishing goals that positively impact the organization, then you’re spending your time focused on all the wrong things.

Here are a few key points on how to tell the difference between goals and tasks.

Goal Statements

A goal statement describes the desired outcomes to be accomplished by an individual within a specific time period. The outcomes set standards for quality, quantity, timeliness, cost, or percent of change required. An effective goal statement includes the elements of: Achieves…Outcome…When.

The “achieves” portion of the statement should include at least one strong action verb. The “outcome” describes the result of different, repetitive, or accumulated activities or provides a range of acceptable results. The “when” includes a specific date or timeline that allows you to know when you’ve accomplished the goal. Statements 1 and 4 above are examples of effective goals.

Task Statements

A task statement outlines steps of activities that should be completed in order to achieve a goal. Usually, these statements will contain a set of steps that must be followed. The task is how specific outcomes will be reached. An effective task statement includes the elements of: Performs Activity…How.

The “performs activity” portion of the statement describes a discrete action that can be done in a short period of time, usually doesn’t include a performance standard, and is a step that is directly related to achieving the goal. The “how” portion of the statement lists smaller, specific actions and usually contains the word “by.” The task statement is usually part of an action plan. Statements 2 and 3 above are examples of tasks.

All good performance starts with clear goals. Whether you use the SMART goal approach (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Trackable) or some other model, focusing on the elements of an effective goal—Achieves…Outcome…When—will help you focus your energy and efforts in the right direction—achieving outcomes that positively impact the performance of individuals and the organization.

Randy Conley is the Vice President of Client Services and Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies. His LeaderChat posts appear the fourth or last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.

4 thoughts on “Most Leaders Stink at Setting Goals – Here’s Why

  1. Pingback: A lesson on goal setting by Ken Blanchard | sabaimru

  2. Pingback: Most Leaders Stink at Setting Goals – Here’s Why – The Retail Room®

  3. Thank you for differentiating between a goal statement and task statement. This is key to business success. I have found that my success in the business world is due to the fact that I follow the careers of those who are more successful than myself. I worked hard and took the advice of others in order to grow my business to the size it is today. I have been following the career of Mark Hurd for the last few years now, since he has taken over at Oracle. I have also been impressed with his leadership and ability to turn a company around. I have closely following his statements at OpenWorld 2016 and I am excited for what he has in store and I am looking forward to the direction that Oracle is heading in the next few years.

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