executive coaching goalsThis tall guy walks up to me. He is sharp dressed, looks strong, and his eyes exude confidence. Nothing ever gets into his way, and the word “failure” is simply not part of his vocabulary.

“So, Gerrit, tell me, what are your goals?”, he asks in his sonorous voice.

A smart question which obviously does not leave any room for me not having any goals.

I shrink in the presence of this personification of success next to me. I feel prompted to say something like: “Within 18 months from now I will be the most sought-after Executive Coach in South-East Asia. I will have a 300 square meter villa on Phuket with a private pool, and my income will be 1 million dollars per year. Minimum.”

I’m so tired of this.

My goal is to help other people be more successful in their jobs and live better lives. And I want a happy and fulfilling life for myself. I want to be in control of my time and spend my time with the people that matter to me. I can’t put a number on that.

Setting goals is overrated.

I got fed up with goal setting in my corporate job years ago. Goals mattered more than anything else. It took at least the first two months of each year until management concluded the annual goals. I was part of this management. Meanwhile the people doing the real work (e.g. on night shift in my factory) simply did their best without having any S.M.A.R.T. goals on EBIT, ROI, or quality metrics.

When we achieved the goals (which were relevant for the flexible part of a manager’s income), we celebrated and patted ourselves on the back. When we missed the goals, we found brilliant excuses like the general economic downturn, the latest financial crisis (there is always one somewhere), or an earthquake.

If having goals works for you, that’s great; keep using goals. If you feel it doesn’t, don’t worry. You don’t have to have goals. In fact I have seen too many people running after their goals like the donkey after the carrot in front of
the cart. They the goals remain continuously this tiny little bit out of reach. Over time, this gets frustrating.

Other people may achieve their professional or financial goals only to find with surprise that this doesn’t get  them one step closer to happiness and fulfilment. (The typical reaction in such a case is to set the next goal and start running after this one.)

Maybe a certain cash flow, EBIT, or ROI are required to keep your company in the business. Such goals may be a necessity. I won’t argue with that.

Maybe reducing your bodyweight to 75 kg is a reasonable goal for you.  Or having this Vice President title on your business card within 18 months. Or increasing your salary by 20,000 $ next year.

Will achieving these goals make you happy or fulfilled? Only you will know. I just doubt it.  And that’s why direction (and the clarity about it) matters so much more than having “SMART” goals for every area of your life. Direction is the overruling idea what you want to do with your life; it’s your compass, your value and believe system. It’s about what really matters to you and what defines you as a unique person.

More important than setting specific and measurable goals is clarity about what you really need for a fulfilling life. You want to make sure that you are not just running after some goals, but more importantly that you are running in the right direction. (If you feel the need to be running, that is…)

“It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. It’s possible to be busy – very busy – without being very effective. (…) If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” -Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

The direction maybe your aspiration for a healthy lifestyle, a fulfilling job, and a happy family life. It’s solely up to you if you need to define S.M.A.R.T. goals to get there. Whether putting a number on your weight, counting the hours you spend with your loved ones, or measuring your professional success by the figure on your monthly pay-check helps you, only you will know. It’s not up to other people to try to define the word success for you.

Learn again to trust your intuition. Stop over-rationalizing everything, let your instinct guide you, and simply do more of what makes you happy. Don’t let other people tell you what you have to do if it does not resonate with you.

By the way I am telling no one anymore that my goal is to have a house on Phuket. If one of these success gurus approaches me and asks me about my goals, I explain with confidence why such goals don’t work for me. It comes with the risk of shaking someone else’s model of the world though.

related articles: Five Simple Steps for Better New Year Resolutions This Time

2 Responses to Screw Goal Setting!

  1. Gunnar Fox says:

    Dr. Pelzer, you may find http://www.Simplelology.com interesting on the topic of goal/direction-setting.

    Your advice that people seek clarity and direction reflects more of a holistic goal setting process. As you have stated elsewhere, this is tied deeply into establishing a broader life purpose. I agree that abstract, alienating goals are not motivational.

    This said, just as we cannot hit targets we cannot see, we cannot achieve goals we do not have. Perhaps this is the basic reason to have some kind of conscious destination in life lest we be carried along aimlessly by waves of events like flotsam, drifting along in a rudderless manner.

    SMART is a helpful tool generally supported by some extraordinary studies (the famous Yale 1953 study is the most striking). But as you suggest, people must dig deeper or the goal will not take root. It will almost feel like someone else’s goal.

    • Gunnar,

      Thanks for your valuable comments!

      I like particularly the idea of having “some kind of conscious destination in life lest we be carried along aimlessly by waves of events like flotsam, drifting along in a rudderless manner.”

      Originating from Germany, where life is (over-?)organized, and now living in Thailand, where the idea of living in the moment is emphasized, I believe that the true key to success is in balancing both, isn’t it? Like balancing the Yin and Yang energies.

      Simple in theory. Challenging at times in daily life though…

Dr. Gerrit Pelzer
Executive Coach
Bangkok, Thailand
phone: +66-8 98 11 36 48
Skype: gp_bkk

© Copyright Vivo Consulting Co., Ltd.

'Helping managers transform into great leaders who are enthusiastic about their work and inspire others.' Vivo Coaching offers Executive Coaching, Leadership Coaching, and Work-Life Balance Coaching. Coaching is provided online and in person. Dr. Gerrit Pelzer is a Certified Professional Coach who serves clients all over the world. His homebase is currently in Bangkok, Thailand.

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