Is being goals focused always what it’s cracked up to be?

Sometimes it’s not about the goal, it’s about everything that makes them happen. Being solely focused on goals means we ignore the hidden costs associated with progress towards them, which in turn means that our goals don’t get the full support they deserve and our resilience is undermined.

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The truth is that goal-driven behaviour is built into our DNA. It’s based on our basic survival instinct. 

Goals give us a sense of achievement and help us build our confidence to move forwards or try new things. But sometimes, the emphasis on goals in isolation can be counter-productive; for example, the workplace we belong to often talks about organisational goals, departmental and individual goals and these are often determined, designed and set by the ‘few.’ What happens if all we do is focus rigidly and unquestioningly on achieving those goals?

The answer is we become obsessed with goals, targets and achievements and lose track of the true aim; growth and learning.

As a former Elite Soldier, with high levels of energy towards goal achievement, I focus a lot of my energy on setting challenging goals yet I am fully aware of the need to balance that with a desire to grow and learn. I recognise the need to focus more on the growth and learning aspect not just fully focused on a goal. As individuals, managers and leaders we need to make sure we are clear on why we are doing it and how we want to get there, not what do want to get to. Setting a goal without the why and how pays little attention to the purpose behind the goal, the reasons for its value or importance and the necessary knowledge needed to perhaps learn from previous mistakes or similar challenges. In essence if we focus solely on the goal we can without knowing it become stuck, despite feeling we are moving towards something.

Focusing only on the what has pitfalls.

Typically, organisational and team goals are often set by a selected ‘few,’ more often than not, these high goal energy individuals thrive on a good challenge and set goals that are a ‘stretch’ yet feel confident in achieving them. A key question is where does this leave the rest of the people who perhaps see these goals as unattainable, unrealistic or unimportant? Being too future focused and forgetting the why and the how can leave valuable people behind who are key to your organisation. Being too focused on goals can make us forget that everyone sees the world differently and it’s not just about setting goals according to the ‘few’.

Focusing only on the what has a real cost.

Often, achieving goals is seen as the only measure of success. We focus so much on the blinkered way forward, doing everything and anything to achieve our objectives that when we look behind, we’re surprised to see key people feeling disconnected, disengaged and sometimes broken. Relationships, health, happiness and ironically often customer service, gets pushed aside when focusing only on goals. We narrow our perspective and miss things that go on around us. By focusing on the why and how involved in growth and learning, we become more aware of the small yet fundamentally important things that contribute to the eventual goal and the bigger picture looks after itself.

Focusing purely on the what sets even the ‘few’ up to fail

I’m talking to those of you with high goal energy, the ‘few’ responsible for setting the goals of your organisation or team. Focusing only on the what and not the why and how might work really well for you but here’s the big question: what happens when you fail? What are you and those around you left with? Defining ourselves by simply what we achieve leaves little when we don’t get there. The world is tough we don’t always get what we want and only focusing on a goal or many goals may mean we take it hard if we don’t get there and we define ourselves as a failure.

I’m not for one second arguing that we should not have or set goals, or even that they should not be stretched and challenging.

I’m ex-military, stretch goals are part of who I am. What I’m saying is that sometimes it’s not about the goals, it’s about everything that makes them happen. Being solely focused on goals means we ignore the hidden costs associated with progress towards them, which in turn means that our goals don’t get the full support they deserve. So, the next time you think about setting a goal, consider other people’s perspective and ask why and how do we want to grow before setting a goal to get there.

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