Most high-performing leaders will tell you that they are unabashed goal-setters. Sky-high vision and aspirational thinking are hallmarks of successful people. Understandably so. Leaders use goals to define expectations and outline the infinite variations of the achievable. Goals give us something to reach for. And those who are driven enough to succeed in any endeavor are used to cozying up to a lofty ideal of what is possible.
But too often, we limit our idea of “reaching high” to a grand ideal for the future. We set goals as hazy accomplishments in the distance, allowing them to come slowly into focus with each step we take towards attaining them. But what is often needed to succeed tomorrow is a clear-headed embodiment of our goals today. The fact is – leadership mastery is a quest, not a destination. We need to reach high in each and every moment to be the best version of ourselves. When it comes to the work of leadership, and the goals we should set for our leadership behaviors: the future is now.
After all — at its heart, the job of leadership is the job of exemplary human interaction. If we want to excel in our position, we need to focus in an immediate way on developing greater clarity and competence so we can be our most helpful. How do we do this? Day by day, minute by minute — one conversation, one meeting, one phone call at a time. We must win the moment before we can win the title. In fact, it has been my experience that a preoccupation with titles and the trappings of success causes leaders to veer way off course into dangerous territory. Conversely, I believe an authentic effort to develop your leadership abilities will naturally put your career trajectory in a positive place. Put simply: you need to have the right goals to excel. Setting the right goals means meaningfully immersing yourself in the work of leadership, not obsessing after some prize. My personal ambition has been: to help build world class organizations that defy the critics and thrive in the face of adversity. Notice how my ambition has not been “to be a world-class CEO”? The reward is found within the work, not in the name of your position.
So how do we own the journey in the right way in each moment? We must consider the big opportunity each leadership interaction affords us. Every time someone knocks at your door, every time someone stops you in the hallway, remember – this is my chance to inhabit my aspirations. This is my chance to become the leader I hope to be. This is my chance to inspire extraordinary performance and surpass expectations. To do this, you will have to reflect on the behaviors and capabilities you want to develop. Who are your role models? What traits do they possess that you want to cultivate? What are the skills you want to improve? Make a specific list of things to work on, and bullets to support each item, so you are prepared to live your leadership goals in your next interaction.
For example, let’s say you want to be a better listener. Write down three specific behaviors you want to manifest in service of this goal. They might be:
- to wait until the other person is finished speaking until you interject
- to summarize what you heard
- to ask more thoughtful follow up questions.
Now you have an actionable goal that you can aspire to achieve in your very next leadership situation – and three specific ways to measure your success. You can actualize that goal in the moment. And the next one. And the one after that. Do an internal debrief each day. What worked? What didn’t? What can you do better?
When you approach your leadership with this insuppressible desire to embody your best intentions in each moment, the results are often astounding. You’ll find that the cumulative impact of pursuing goals in this moment-to-moment way amounts to tangible change. Your ability to react swiftly and effectively to the people with whom you work will soar, and the leadership dividends can transform projects, teams — even entire organizations.
Goals can be set and won in the here and now.
It’s worth it to adapt your approach to “reaching high.” For better or worse, you likely spend a majority of your waking hours doing or thinking about your work. You owe it to yourself to make that work more meaningful by expanding your idea of what a goal can be. Goals shouldn’t be limited to lofty payoffs hovering unattainably on the horizon. Goals can be set and won in the here and now. Don’t sell yourself short. Set a lofty and worthy ambition that you can personify with urgency in the very next moment. Be aspirational. Your journey is special — you don’t have to wait until tomorrow to reap the rewards of your desire to be a better leader.