How to set goals you will actually follow up on and achieve

Leadership-Expertin Stefanie Voss. ©Annette Reidick2

Stefanie Voss is an international keynote speaker on leadership topics, focusing specifically on VUCA and ambiguity. Recently, she held a speech on „Dealing with Ambiguity“. In her speech, she covered multiple aspects around self-leadership and leading teams, how to best communicate and collaborate in an insecure, ambiguous environment . A fundamental and fascinating factor in this context is the question: How do you set clear goals in a hazy setting?

In order to illustrate this aspect of setting goals, she asked the audience to get up. “Please raise your arms as high above your heads as you possibly can“ was the task she set the audience, which consisted of the executives of a large corporation.

People were standing in front of her with their hands high in the air. She inquired again: “This looks quite good already – but have you really raised your arms as far up you can?“ They all agreed and a clear “YES!” was stated by all participants.

Then she asked one more question: „Please raise your arms just another 1.5 cm higher.“ They immediately accepted this new challenge and all of them raised their arms just a little bit higher. But while doing so, some of them already started to smile and the first laughs erupted in the audience.

Starting the brief experiment, they all unanimously had assured that their arms were truly as far up as they would go. But then, with just a little extra effort, they were able to gain a couple of centimeters more after all. So what can we learn here?

What’s the purpose of this exercise? What is the underlying message? Simply put: In an environment that is governed by ambiguity and vagueness, small but specific goals often are the better goals.

In large organizations, goals are frequently defined for the long run. They are labeled with a trendy message, which, however, is not necessarily “catchy” and suitable in everyday life. Especially in our uncertain times, many people need clear-cut goals that can be implemented in the short term. What needs to be done today? What has to be accomplished by the end of the week?

Small goals are necessary to enable us to align us with one another again and again. Getting one’s bearings provides safety. What is your goal for today? What would you definitely like to achieve this week?

Stefanie Voss is also a highly experienced business coach. She recommends: “Set yourself your personal little daily goal when you get up in the morning - and definitely check in the evening whether you have accomplished it.”

Of course big goals are also important, no doubt about it. A vision of what we want mid- and long-term helps us to stay on a bigger track. But for the small moves and everyday decisions, sometimes big goals are too big. Then it’s the specific, small goals that – step by step – to bring you closer to your big vision.

When setting your personal goals, keep the following aspects in mind: 

  • Your goals should be of various proportions. Having small AND big goals (that are aligned of course!) works best.
  • The tiny goals you set for yourself for the day should be tangible and specific. At the end of the day you can then always check off a goal achieved.
  • If you are working in a team, synchronize your goals – the big ones AND the small ones – with your teammates at regular intervals, if possible.

Being a passionate sailor, this small-and-big-goals combination is in Stefanie’s DNA. Having circumnavigated the world crewing on a 66-foot-yacht in her mid-twenties, she has learned this concept early on in her life. At any moment in time, a sailor needs to pay heed to the course currently set. Yet while doing so, one must never lose sight of the big picture – the port of destination 800 nautical miles away.

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Michael Kürzeder
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Michael Kürzeder
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