Do You Suck at Setting Goals? Stop Sucking on this Key Principle of Effective Leadership

Targets-Goals-LeadershipThe story has been told of the young man who took his archery set out in the field behind the barn. After carefully taking aim and launching his quiver full of arrows at the barn wall, he walked up to the barn, took a can of red paint, and painted targets around each arrow. Celebrating his excellent marksmanship, he entered a local competition and was soundly defeated, unable to hit any of the targets.

Leaders often find themselves in crisis management, reacting to the situations around them (i.e. Firefighting). Often this is because of a lack of clearly communicated goals and objectives. If we as leaders do our job first and then paint targets second, it’s bound to look as though we succeeded (even if we didn’t accomplish anything of value). If we properly paint our targets first, we will have a much better chance at achieving  our goals.

Effective Leadership Understands the Value of Goals

A key component of effective leadership is to identify and communicate the key goals and objectives of the organization.  Here are some tips for setting goals:

  • Mission Driven: Goals should clearly fit into the overall mission and purpose of the organization.  Team members need to understand how their responsibilities fit into the larger picture.
  • Measurable: Goals should be specific and quantifiable.  Nebulous goals leave employees uncertain of their success and always hoping that they are on track with your expectations.
  • Attainable: It is OK to reach for the stars, but if it is impossible to reach, we’ll achieve nothing more than to maintain the status-quo.  However, you want to make sure that your team members know that the goals are attainable, and that you will support them in accomplishing the goal.
  • Controllable: The best goals are the ones in which we control the outcome.  Instead of setting a goal to grow your customer base by 10 new clients; set the goal to contact 40 potential clients,  make 30 presentations, send 30 care-packages, etc… By setting the right small steps, you can practically guarantee the success of a higher goal, i.e. closing 10 clients. Completing the goal is entirely within the realm of your control, as it doesn’t rely on the potential customer’s response.

Communicate your goals often, and be sure to support your team members and celebrate their successes (no matter how small).  Incorporate team members in the creation of these goals, so that they have ownership in the process. You might consider reading up on SMART Goals as well.

Continuing The Conversation on Developing Effective Leadership Through Goals

The Ultimate Personal Annual Success Plan for achieving your goals is meant to help individuals create greater success in 2013 and it really is an awesome format for defining, tracking and achieving greater success. Get it before the price goes-up. For organizations please check out my workshops and consulting.

Have you successfully changed the culture of your organization through effective goal setting?  Have you ever fired first and painted targets second? Please share your thoughts below.

About Todd Nielsen

Todd Nielsen helps organizations create miracles of success and profitability through the power of execution. Having served as Vice-President, President, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chief Executive Officer of organizations, he has learned how to create a culture that "Gets Things Done." He is passionate about leadership, and is a dynamic and inspirational speaker.


  1. Hi Todd,

    Valuable info. Thanks.

    Around the controllable element I would still say that there needs to be a clearly defined end goal. In your example the 10 clients still needs to be there. Yes, break it down into smaller achievable and motivating goals, but, without the end goal, you don’t actually know if the steps are working.

    People may contact clients and do the presentations, but they can take easy options without the accountability of some kind of result. People can then potentially be busy AND meeting expectations, but still not delivering what the business needs.The balance needs to be there.

  2. Great summary of the characteristics of well formulated goals. We can all think of examples where a deviation from these creates problems. And, to avoid ‘barn painting’, it’s best if the person performing the task doesn’t have complete control over the specification of the goals.

  3. Working on teaching goals at my organization right now. Such a tough concept for some. What I have found is some refuse to set goals out of fear. Once you have set a clear goal, and a target, it requires a commitment and the work to get there. That fear of accountability and “what if I fail” are huge obstacles for some. Thank you Todd!

  4. Todd, I like the way you’ve presented what we’ve known as SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable, and Timely. Love the sign with bullet holes.


  1. […] See on – Living LeadershipThe story has been told of the young man who took his archery set out in the field behind the barn. After carefully taking aim and launching his quiver full of (…) (Do You Suck at Setting Goals?See on […]