Byron's Babbles

The Goal Setting Paradox

I have always had an interesting relationship with goal setting. I’ve always had goals, but I’ve also always believed in living life and believing there were people and opportunities that show up at the right moments for me to choose how to use the effects of – kind of like a chemical reaction. Everly, a character in Patti Callahan Henry’s great historical novel, Surviving Savannah said it best, “Anyone who is engaged in life at all is brave.” Now don’t take this to say I am against goal setting. It’s just that I believe we must recognize the paradoxical effects that goal setting can have.

This reflection on goal setting was prompted by Chapter 43, “Raise The Bar” in Mindset Mondays with DTKby David Taylor-Klaus (DTK). He taught us that we are motivated by reasonable stretches. We need to go beyond the common endpoint to what he called the “visionary goal.” He told us “…there’s something extraordinary that happens when your marshaling your energy in the direction of a stretch goal.” I totally get that and have been blessed to experience that. But, this is also where the paradox begins.

In the great book by my good friend, David Marquet, Leadership Is Language, David reminded us that strict goals plus steep hierarchies can create an environment fertile for unethical behavior. He also reminded us that, “Strategies to achieve goals are often at odds with learning.” Now, I know this was in no way where DTK was going in Chapter 43, but the paradox is worth noting. I believe it needs to become the litmus test for goals. Individuals and organizations need to keep a close eye on whether goals are creating the desired effect of stretching us toward our greater purpose. I have witnessed ambition taking over purpose and there are well documented cases of this. In fact I’ve blogged a great deal about it. If you want to check out a couple, read Passion At Ambition’s Command and When Purpose & Passion Turn Into Ambition. To counteract this, DTK taught us to remember that failure along the way, if used for learning and course correcting, is a key contributor to the ultimate success of a goal.

So, thinking back to what Everly said in Surviving Savannah, if to be engaged in life is to be brave, let’s be brave and set the bar high, make sure we don’t let the goal get in the way of learning, and never let goals turn into purposeless ambition. Remember the litmus test for goal setting.

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