Will We Ever Get There – Leading When Success Seems Far Away at Best


Okay, so I’m done encouraging you to set goals. I’m moving on to a new and nearly universal leadership question: What are the key leadership strategies to succeed when the goals you are striving to reach will take a long time, and when there are variables that may entirely prevent you from reaching them? Perhaps some examples will help. A mayor might have the goal of reducing drug use in her community. Somebody might have the goal of getting the Lions in the playoffs. And the next governor will, if s/he’s smart share my wife’s goal of diversifying Michigan’s economy and heightening our educational achievement levels. Maybe your goal is to lose 50 pounds, publish a book, raise your 12 year old to be a gentleman and a scholar, or maybe you are committed to beat cancer. For all of those examples, and perhaps with your goals, there will likely be tough stretches when it seems goal attainment is all but impossible. This week and following I’ll offer some core strategies to keep moving forward. Two strategies for today.

Develop a key mental discipline to cleanly separate goal and reality. Don’t let your mind drown your goal with the reality of the moment. Okay, so almost nobody can keep that from happening. Instead we say, “I’ll never lose 50 pounds; I’ve lost only 1 pound in three weeks, and that almost killed me!” Or, “How can I reduce the drug trade, when my city council just laid off two police officers.” The dismal thoughts of futility will come unbidden and unwelcome, so the discipline is to keep making this mental separation: goal and reality are two different things. I will NOT let go of my goal. And I WILL keep looking at reality, cuz what is, is. Keep the goal in front of you. On a flip-chart. On your planner cover, your refrigerator, dashboard, the back of your hand, weekly agenda, and prayer list. The goal belongs to the future, to spirit, to faith, to your heart, and reaching it likely means good things for others as well as yourself. So, keep it strong in these realms.

Second, savor and celebrate the small wins. We’ve all learned that elephants can only be eaten one way, and that’s a bite at a time. So, recognize when you have finished eating the elephant’s ear (hopefully at the county fair). Our unstoppable cultural shifts make it hard to stop, and to focus on the positives. The culture wants immediate gratification – part way doesn’t count! Look how little time we’ve given President Obama to solve extraordinarily complex issues like a global recession, terrorism, and health care reform. So, he must work like crazy to find ways to remind us of signs of hope, and point to the data of progress. The culture also loves to see the car crash, what’s a mess, the blood on the highway. It’s not just the media. It’s us. Anyone raising teens to be ladies and gentlemen knows that the tendency is to see all they’re not doing and to dwell on the mistakes. It takes really paying attention to see the wins they’re achieving and not just the goof-ups. But whether it’s a personal goal like dieting, fitness, or going back to school; or if it’s a collective goal, like improving school graduation rates or lowering obesity; energy grows when we focus on gains and not just on losses. In a long race like a half marathon, I bolster myself by mentally walking through all the twists in the road behind me, not dwelling on the miles still to come. When I do that I can feel the energy surge, realizing how far I’ve come and what I have accomplished.

Let me close this week by saying congratulations to the Detroit Free Press which is looking to savor and celebrate the wins as Michigan seeks to diversify. They are seeking nominations to recognize the folks who are making Michigan’s economy more green.

In the following weeks I’ll offer more strategies – and I welcome your observations and strategies – to help pushing ahead when a goal seems distant if not unreachable. That’s the critical work of those of you who want to

Lead with your best self.

Listen to the audio here!