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How Many Goals Should We Set?

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in Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

As we plan for the annual goal-setting process (if yours isn’t upon you yet, it will be soon), this is an important question for both your team and for you personally. I’m going to address it for you here because I believe if you want your team to set goals, you should be setting them too.

The “how many goals” question is a great one, and the answer is ... it depends.

Actually there are, I believe, two answers that may seem in disagreement at first, but let’s try to decipher it all here.

First, I believe—and the research I’ve read supports it—that we need a limited list of current and most important goals. We need a short list of three-, six- and/or 12-month goals—these are important goals to move us forward in the various areas of our lives. Since our brains can only focus on a certain number of things anyway, having this short list is important. It allows us to take daily or regular action in pursuit of them (and if you aren’t taking regular action, well, what is the point of the goal?).

And ...

I believe we need a big lifetime list too.

This idea became popular with the movie The Bucket List. In this movie, if you haven’t seen it, two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die. This isn’t exactly what I mean, but it is close!

Too often, people speak of a bucket list as a list of things they want to do “someday”—while in the movie Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman did take action, they waited until they were terminally ill before they started!

The bigger life list of goals may include specific things to do (like take my Mom to the Kentucky Derby) and also bigger items on your life course. I suggest you sit down and write your life goal list. Think big and let your mind wander. Write down your heart’s desires. Then look at the list regularly—this review allows you to shape and add to the list, but also gets your subconscious working on them in ways you couldn’t imagine consciously.

Then as you are adding or updating your shorter goal list, consult this big list. If you don’t ever move items from the big list to the shorter term, the list is of less value and is truly only a wish list.

Once you think about this for yourself, you can do the same thing for your team and organization—but if you aren’t doing it for yourself first, your chances of success in doing so organizationally are drastically hampered.

Perhaps your organizational process is a few weeks away. If so, great. You have time to work on your personal process now, so you are ready to lead by example.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Harry October 4, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Great post on goal setting!

You may want to check out http://www.GoalsOnTrack.com/, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals, habits, and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate, and most of all, really works!


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