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Bad goals, bad results

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

You may think that stating a bold goal and mobilizing your employees to achieve it is a test of your leadership. It sounds so heroic to set everyone’s sights on an outlandishly ambitious goal and then express your innermost belief that “we’re capable of doing this.”

But in your eagerness to lead the way to the Promised Land, you may detour into a swamp of unintended consequences.

You cannot will your staff to do the impossible. Your workplace isn’t a Hollywood movie where underdogs pull off a miracle.

Here’s what you can do: Level with your team about the challenges your organization must overcome and discuss options going forward. Encourage everyone to share ideas in a supportive, judgment-free atmosphere. Raise your concerns and admit the pressures you face. A manager’s honesty and humility inspire more trust and commitment than a single-minded rallying cry to attain an out-of-reach goal.

Even the most lauded leaders get too caught up in goals. In a Boston Globe column, Drake Bennett cites the cautionary tale of Lee Iacocca, the chief executive of Ford Motor Co. in the late 1960s. He told his vehicle design team to create a car that weighed less than 2,000 pounds, cost less than $2,000 and could go to market by 1970.

The result? The notorious Ford Pinto. Its manufacturing defects contributed to the deaths of 53 people.

“Company executives ignored and then played down questions about the safety of the car’s design,” Bennett writes, because they wanted to meet Iacocca’s goal.

Goals that arise from group debate tend to resonate more with staffers. As long as they understand the organization’s priorities and business model—and they have a hand in shaping the goal—then the odds of a successful outcome soar.

Bottom-line idea

To sharpen your team’s brainpower—and engage in a fun group exercise—have each employee memorize a different list of 10 unrelated words. Allow one minute. Then keep them busy with other activities for 20 minutes, at which point you go around the room asking them to recite their list. Most people will only recall six to eight items. But playing the game on an ongoing basis can boost everyone’s memory skills.

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