Are you feeling off-track lately?


Nearing the end of our 3rd Calendar Quarter, do you recall the goals that inspired you at the start of this year? Do you still find them inspiring or have they lost their attraction? Did other priorities prevent you from getting started or maintaining momentum? Did you get stuck at some point, start to doubt yourself, never move through your stuck point and watch your dream slowly fade off into the distance? Are you pretending that everything is OK, faking it till you make it or pushing through your own resistance and feeling miserable?

It’s a common problem - which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re failing either! You might have simply started out with the wrong goals.

A fascinating research paper from Harvard Business School “Goals Gone Wild…” warns about the dangers of over-prescribing goal-setting as the ‘halcyon pill for improving employee motivation and performance in organizations’. Culturally we have become over-invested in this default way of doing things, while managers and employees (including yourself if you are self-employed) and potentially your customers and the wider community suffer the unwanted side-effects. Trends in the large corporates find their way into business education courses and smaller businesses adopt these trends, in an effort to emulate those practices and grow bigger.

Setting the wrong goals can work against you

Goals can actually be problematic, demotivating or even dangerous when:

  • They are too specific – resulting in other important issues being ignored;
  • There are too many – typically resulting in quantity goals and ones that are easier to achieve being prioritised over quality goals- aka sweating over the small stuff;
  • The time horizon is inappropriate – creates myopic focus on short term wins at the expense of longer term;
  • They stretch people too much - promoting too much risk taking, internal competition and unethical behaviour.

Context is important when choosing goals

For formulaic work with predictable outcomes, the default ‘SMART’ goal approach - with 90-day reporting over a 12-month period - can be motivating and support your success.

You need a different approach at times when you are:

  • Pioneering a new idea or initiative;
  • Creating a vision for the longer term;
  • Working with complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity;
  • Transitioning or transforming – yourself and/or your businesses.

At these times we need:

  • A ‘quest’ rather than a ‘mission’;
  • Intentions rather than fixed objectives;
  • Experimentation rather than planning;
  • Empowerment rather than controlling;
  • A focus on Be-ing rather than Do-ing;
  • Appreciation of the intrinsic factors that make this vision worthwhile.

Unless we respect and make choices in accordance with these differences in context, we can end up suffering from ‘goal abuse’.

Examples of goal abuse from my coaching practice where clients have suffered real psychological distress include:

  • Focusing on what you don’t want because you haven’t taken the opportunity to get in touch with what you do want (in fact “moving away from” goals are far less satisfying and sustainable than “moving towards” goals);
  • Conflicting goals causing internal conflict and compromise, suffering guilt and seeing this as failure rather than using this as a learning experience;
  • Adopting someone else’s idea of what you “should” do – meaning you don’t own the goal, it’s not really yours and your motivation wanes, so you make a half-hearted effort to produce a half-baked result and feel down about it;
  • Placing value on a concept of “success” that doesn’t reflect your values or identity - and believing you need to change to fit that ideal;
  • Setting goals in isolation, away from the greater context of your work/life and then having a rough landing back to ‘reality’;
  • Becoming a “slave to your goal”, driving yourself relentlessly because you can’t bear to break a commitment.

Bottom line: your goals are only as inspiring and useful as the context from which you create them.

Missing a goal is not sabotaging success if the goal is not aligned with your values and needs in the first place!

It is a deeper act of self-sabotage to waste your time striving for goals that are not really yours.

If this post resonates for you please let me know! I am happy to answer any questions you may have. There is also a special “Ladies at the Lodge’ workshop on Saturday 19th October where I will be sharing several of the key strategies that my clients have successfully used to master the art of Intentional Goal Setting and Empowered Feminine Leadership. We would love you to join us – find out more here!


About the author: Sue Tsigaros is a business coach and mentor, Director of Iris Group, and SHBC silver support partner.


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