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The downside of pursuing goals: leadership follies

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Fixating on setting and meeting goals creates tunnel vision.

How? Take what happened when General Motors set out to recapture 29% of the American car market a few years ago. GM execs sported lapel pins with the number 29 on them, but the company never did regain that market share.

Or, look at what happened when Lee Iacocca, then at Ford, directed his team to design a car that weighed less than a ton, cost less than two grand and would be ready for production in about two years. Pressed for time, executives slavishly met the deadline, handing him the Ford Pinto in 1970 and playing down questions about safety even as 53 people died because the car would occasionally burst into flames.

Single-minded pursuit of a goal also drove Enron, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into disastrous, morally reprehensible decisions based on bad judgment.

Researchers who study the effects of goal-setting find that it can have unintended consequences. “It can focus attention too much, or on the wrong things; it can lead to crazy behaviors,” says Adam Galinsky, a business professor at Northwestern University and co-author of the paper “Goals Gone Wild.”

Lesson: Nobody’s saying we should give up on goals. We just need to take some common-sense questions into consideration, including what we really need and what it’ll cost.

— Adapted from “Ready, aim … fail: Why setting goals can backfire,” Drake Bennett, The Boston Globe.

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