Importance of Setting Goals

importance of setting goals

You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself

Galileo Galilei

Importance of Setting Goals

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember,
involve me and I learn.
-- Benjamin Franklin

I had a new employee. Not long after she joined my team, I set goals for her. We regularly talked / discussed her role / what she's doing ... focusing on how we make her as successful as possible individually, on my team and in the organization.

The Worst Boss I've Had 

My boss "Bob" rarely talked with me but regularly sent me emails telling me what to do. ("Bob" was not my boss' real name but was a real person)  He didn't understand what I was working on but focused on what he did know. Here's who Bob was:

  1. He focused on today and next week (but never long term)
  2. He wanted my communication to be unidirectional to him -- via email or 1:1 (but never responded)
  3. He focused on what he understood and provided regular direction around that
  4. He was quick to tell me what I did wrong (but no guidance how to get better)

Here's what Bob didn't do:

  1. Didn't set goals so I understood what success looked like
  2. Didn't help me grow my capabilities (or even understand them)
  3. Didn't suggest other opportunities to enhance my impact
  4. Only focused on here and now....

Bob created a frustrating experience for me. And, the rest of his team felt the same way.

Looking back now, Bob was a "shell manager", a boss on the outside but nothing on the inside.

He created a demotivating atmosphere, and unfortunately his team and I were not able to (nor given the tools to) perform at our best.

Importance of Setting Goals - and make a difference

Upon arriving at the Air Force Academy, they gave us a book of quotes to remember. (yes a book) One of my favorites was by General Patton:

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do
and they will surprise you with their ingenuity
-- General George S Patton

A few of the principles I use with my team:

  1. Set a Few Clear Goals (that are aligned with the greater organization's success)
  2. Focus on Outcomes
  3. Be a Coach and Guide

Importance of Setting Goals - the steps

1) Set a Few Clear Goals

What does success look like?
Setting a few clear goals is paramount - challenging but achievable. It allows you and your employee to know what is expected provides an opportunity for them to create accomplishment, and ideally allows for an opportunity to grow via challenge.  More than 4 goals becomes confusing. The concept that I discussed in my article The #1 Thing That Makes You Stand Out  allows you to clearly identify and align goals with business needs.

The importance of setting goals with regular discussions ...  regular discussions are very helpful as well as addressing barriers to achievement. How will you help them achieve those goals -- challenge them -- identify and grow capabilities they need to achieve them.  To help with this, set weekly, monthly or quarterly targets to review the goals and how the team members are achieving them. 

  • Are they having challenges that you can help them work through?  Or barriers that may require your help to break down.
  • Share previous experiences that may be aligned with achieving similar goals.
  • Are their next steps aligned with success, or would some minor steering be helpful?

2) Focus on Outcomes

Its easy to walk off the path ....When an organization of mine was recognized as being best in class, someone mentioned we should make it even better so we're recognized by the marketplace. Though great idea in concept, focusing on that could reduce business value (we're here to create it) by taking too much on and making things too complex.  Diluting your ability to effectively execute.  Always, the most important thing -- creating the best outcomes for our business so the goals are aligned with business success.  

The same goes for your team members. Keep them focused on the outcomes and journey to get there. All too often its easy to veer off the path -- the great bosses will provide us a little nudge to get back on the right path. To the planned outcome. Helping us learn along the way.  And can you measure that you've achieved the outcome?

3) Be a Coach and Guide

When I was a pilot in the military, we always had our destination -- the end point where we were flying. Every journey to the destination was different ... weather, distance, danger, logistics, etc all played into getting there. As the "Captain" of the crew, it was my role to ensure we made it there (I couldn't do everyone's job) but provided the right focus, reference, decisions, recommendations, to help us get there... supporting the importance of setting goals.

In business, the role is the same. Use your experience, relationships, thought processes to overcome challenges -- and share HOW you do them with your team / direct reports in 1:1's. Help them grow. Help them be more successful in their journeys to meet the goals and outcomes.  Mentorship is critical.

Everyone has...their own theories. There are countless management books on leadership but you have to start somewhere. Focus on the simple things first. Be a good mentor, coach, and guide ... these are a few great steps to start.

So what happened to my new employee?

As I mentioned above, with my new employee .. regularly talked / discussed her role / what she's doing ... focusing on how we make her as successful as possible on my team and in the organization. One year later we still did that .... and I watched her grow ... and create amazing impact.

Read more leadership lessons including mentorship and importance of setting goals on BornLeadership

How do you help your employees grow? What do you think about mentorship?
(and how does your boss help you?)



A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.

Bob Proctor

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