Leaders, Are Your Goals Overrated?

If someone asked me that question, my first response would be with a question. Are you asking about my personal or my professional goals? In this case, I’m asking about both because (whether one or the other) they both require the same common denominator. A convicted mindset! When I’m conducting Merit Profile Assessments with aspiring and even current leaders, I’m measuring their character and behavior over 10 core competencies that tell me three very important things: 1. The nature of their general overall attitude. 2. The nature of their general overall belief system. 3. The nature of their general overall commitment level. Knowing those three things helps me determine what kind of leadership style they have and what kind of leadership style they default to in times of anxiety, stress or crisis. It also tells me the one thing I’m really looking for, which is the nature of their overall mindset. So, why is the mindset so important? Because identifying goals is one thing; understanding the difference between goals and behaviors (especially if they’re the result of unhealthy habits directed by the mindset) is quite another! This is why I’m asking if your goals are overrated. If you don’t have healthy habits (behaviors) that reflect a convicted mindset, then your goals really don’t matter. The majority of them will never be achieved, either professionally or personally. Let’s take a simple example. You can have a goal of becoming wealthy, which a lot of people do, and you can set incremental financial goals, which a lot of people do. However, if you haven’t noticed, the majority of us aren’t wealthy. Why? Because the mindset is not the same. Those not wealthy see money as something to be spent, while the wealthy see it as something to be invested. Think about any book you’ve ever read about becoming rich (there are many and more being published every day) and you won’t find one that doesn’t zero in on investing. So, what does investing require? Creating the habit to invest rather than to spend, regardless of how much you start with. Warren Buffet himself said that Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. In my opinion (and my own earlier personal experience, by the way) people tend to rely too much on self-discipline and completely ignore forming useful habits, much less identifying unhealthy ones. They also tend to set goals that are far above their ability or knowledge level and then become frustrated when they make little to no progress. Interestingly enough, I find this most often with executive leaders, who rely more on positional authority to accomplish goals (which bleeds over into their personal lives), rather than creating healthy leadership habits that influence people to help them accomplish those goals. You’ll have to trust me because I’ve been there. People are also tempted to take shortcuts to achieve a goal that actually only sabotages them in the long run. The most common goal I can think of that’s approached exactly this way is losing weight. How many people have set this goal and then sabotaged themselves by not first identifying why they default to unhealthy habits and then identifying and creating new habits that not only help them in the short-term, but more importantly, in the long-term? The common denominator is the mindset, which is a fixed mental attitude that predetermines an individual’s response to certain situations. This is why I believe it’s better to invest your time and energy into building long-term habits rather than short-term goals. Goals are finite; habits are enduring because they occur daily on a continuum. Look, it’s not an easy proposition to create new habits. We’ve all heard that it takes 21 days to embed a new habit, which is a myth. Research actually indicates that it can take (depending upon the circumstances) 66 days. This is not only why finite goals are so appealing to most of us, it’s why investing in understanding our mindset and why we behave the way we do on the front end is so important. I haven’t really focused much on goals in general the last few years. I’ve invested much more time in changing my mindset from ‘wondering what’s next’ to ‘knowing what’s next’ because of habits that reinforce my three core values of simple, relevant and compelling. Because of those core values and new habits, I’ve become pretty good at saying ‘no’ to most things rather than ‘yes’. Truth Be Told, looking back, all those ‘yes’s’ sabotaged me much more than they helped.

Published by The Leadership Consortium

Maxie Carpenter was formerly Vice President of HR & Talent Development for Wal-Mart Stores. After a 27-year career, he began to pursue a number of other interests, which included alternative education, nonprofits, consulting, writing and public speaking.

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