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Why goal setting is important for leaders

Why Goal Setting Is Important For Leaders

Jack Cao
Jack Cao
Whether you are a solo-entrepreneur, a manager of a small team or you just want to know more about leadership, understands the importance of setting goals will be a highly effective skill set worth mastering.
Table of Contents

I have always been fascinated by how the great leaders of history managed to make a life-changing impact on the rest of the world. One of the most common practices that contributed to Elon Musk’s, Steve Job’s, Bill Gates success is their mastery over goal-setting: translating big, audacious vision into the company’s day-to-day work.

The reason why effective leaders set goals are:

  • Goal Setting helps leaders maintain high-level performance.
  • Goal Setting sparks high performance in employees.

With so much unexamined, outdated understanding of goal-setting, let’s look at how important goal setting actually is with good case practices from top leaders and top companies in the world. 

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1. Goals Help Leaders Maintain High-level Performance

Uncle Ben of Spiderman famously said: “With great power, comes great responsibilities.”

And great responsibilities come with plenty of problems and headaches: having to navigate through a packed schedule for both your personal and professional life, months or years of constant grinding and a potential burned out from overworking, ensuring the company’s performance on all fronts…

Especially when you are just starting out and don’t have a CPO, a CMO, a CFO or a COO, you must find a way to do all of these tasks by yourself.

Setting goals help leaders stay focused on what truly matters.

Being a leader, setting goals equals having a bigger picture, a vision that he or she wants to get to.

When you set the SMART goals, you have a bulls-eye that they know to focus and prioritize, keeping your world in order.

You won’t act frantically at the first sight of trouble or worry excessively over small problems because you know it won’t matter in your 5 years’ goals.

You won’t neglect your health and your personal well-being because you know your health is worth way more in the long game than a couple of quick dollars.

If you have strong, compelling goals 5, 10 years down the line, you have set yourself apart from the vast 95% of the world. You have a backdrop and a larger perspective for everything that you do and set your mind to.

Those goals would decide whether everyday tasks are urgent or important.

To put in practice, a leader should

Follow the simple yet effective method to set goals and prioritize is the Eisenhower Matrix, popularized by the 34th President of the United States.

The Eisenhower Matrix

In which, you categorize all of your goals based on their urgency and importance and decide what to do next:

-          Urgent and Important: you have to do it now

-          Not urgent but important: you have to schedule and know when to do it

-          Urgent but not important: who you can delegate and trust with this work

-          Not urgent and not important: you shouldn’t bother with this box at all

Setting Goals give leaders relentless motivations

When you are in charge and at the top, you need a true sense of purpose that would give you persistent motivation for months and years.

No one is responsible for making sure the leaders are committed and motivated to do the job but himself. In fact, as a leader, you would be also responsible for your employee’s engagement and motivation also.

Setting the big, compelling or even nearly-impossible goals allow the leader to be engaged and motivated in the long run, and also give the entire company its purpose.

All the great companies, great movements have their big goals and great leaders:

Mahatma Gandhi desire to set India free through nonviolent resistance against the British Rule.

Martin Luther King, JR with his great dream for constitutional equality for all people.

The great leaders of history all have such compelling visions for the future that they were willing to put in decades of hard work, spending years in prison or putting their life on the line. The drive that enables them to bring about so much positive change in their personal, big and compelling vision for the future.

No road to a goal worth fighting for is a smooth road paved with rose petals.

Goal setting is a continuous long-term process that requires constant update and revision. As you come up against challenges, failures and defeats may demotivate and put you off track. Many people will quit and abandon their call after a couple of setbacks.

But through a habit of goal-setting, constantly reminding yourself of the ultimate big-picture vision, you nurture and keep your passion burning, pushing you through the cold winter.

To put in practice, a leader should

-          Define the biggest goal that is most important to yourself

-          Remind yourself of that goal on a daily basis

-          Constantly revise your tactics and strategies to reach that goal in the face of obstacles.

2.    Goal Setting Sparks High Performance in Employees.

Goal-setting’s importance doesn’t stop at the individual’s leader performance; it also affects the overall performance of the entire company.

Goal-setting increases Employee’s Efficiency at Creative Tasks

With companies and teams struggling to get employees to be more efficient, our way of management is often outdated and harmful to the company’s productivity.

Surprisingly, the carrot and stick method has been found to have a negative effect on a worker’s ability for creative tasks. With a bigger carrot, more money reward, and a larger stick, more punishment, people get more stress. And with more stress, less creativity is fostered. Hence the performance is worse.

In the Ted talk by Career Analysts Daniel Pink, he explained why in the leading companies are using a goal-setting as an alternative approach: where workers are given the autonomy to set a goal for themselves, and they have more freedom to pursue those goals in whichever way they deem fit.

Leaders empower workers through the act of goal-setting: as long as you deliver the result at a deadline, you can choose the how, the where, the what of your working process.

Google adopts this as one of their management strategies: employees can use 20% of their time working on Google to work on any problems that they want. And surprisingly, Google employees didn’t waste this free time surfing the Internet or idle through their days, they produced much better outcomes.

Google 20% Time
Mashable Explaining the 20% Rule

The result is about half of Google’s new products in a year were produced during this 20 % of the free goal-setting time, including Gmail, Orkut, Google News, Google Maps and AdSense.

To put in practice, a leader should

·         Understand the harming effects of stress on creativity and problem-solving ability

·         Empower employees through autonomy in goal-setting


Ambitious Goals Boost Morale of an Entire Generation

Mirroring the points above, ambitious and compelling goals not only give the leaders themselves relentless motivation, but it also gives the entire nation, the entire company a sense of purpose to work through challenges.

September 12th, 162, Rice University, Houston, Texas, United States.

President John F. Kennedy giving the "We choose to go to the Moon" speech

President John F. Kennedy delivered one of the most historic speeches, as he proclaims that the United States would be the leading force in the new adventure into outer space, and be the first to land a man on the Moon before the 1960s comes to an end.

Notice, even in his speech, he acknowledges that the top scientists of that time don’t know exactly how to execute this mission and the metal that can endure the journey hasn’t even existed yet. But the United States would go forth into the darkness of the unknown and pursue this goal.

Even after his tragic assassination, the “We choose to go to the Moon” speech of JFK lives on as an ultimate goal for the entire nation to focus on. And on July 20th, 1969, the United States’ Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to land on the Moon, fulfilling JFK’s vision 9 years prior.

It’s the job of the leader to give a sense of purpose to the company, the nation, the community: where they are heading and why that matters.

And one of the best ways to transmit a leader’s ambition to the public’s understanding is through personal goal-setting.

To put in practice, a leader should

  •  Define a clear and specific vision that is big and compelling to serve as the ultimate unchanging goal.
  • Break it down into smaller milestones with a clear deadline to have a sense of urgency.
  • Define obstacles and set actions to overcome them to give the execution direction towards the ultimate goal.

In Conclusion: Goal Setting is Important to Leader

Whether you are a solo-entrepreneur, a manager of a small team or you just want to know more about leadership, understands the importance of setting goals will be a highly effective skill set worth mastering.

It will not only give the leader a greater perspective to focus and stay motivated but also drive the team’s efficiency and morale up and persevere through tough times.

What’s your experience with goal setting so far? Can you share with the Habitify community your thoughts?

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