"A small thing you nail can be better than a big thing you fail."
-- James B. Johnson
I was in a meeting the other day and we were discussing some objectives for a new team that is forming, and Jim (my CEO) said the line above. He has been quite effective in getting our company to increase our success in both large and small things, so I tend to listen to what he says. As many of us begin to make plans and set lofty goals for 2010 (personally and professionally) I thought this quote was worth sharing.
The balance can be tricky - I know of many times when I have set some seemingly impossible goals, only to one day discover I've achieved them. But I can think of many more lofty goals that I never got done.
Making the impossible happen
So what's the difference? I'd say the successful "impossible goals" that were accomplished in spite of their 'impossibleness' had a few things in common:
- Heartfelt commitment. Each of the impossible goals that got done was something I deliberately committed to, far beyond just lip service and platitudes.
- Sustained passion. These goals also tended to be things I could not only get excited about, but I could stay passionate about.
- Engaged others. I think this is linked to the sustained passion - I am good at evangelizing the things I'm passionate about, and that's when I recruit others to my cause.
- Clarity of desired outcome. This is not always what it seems - these outcomes are specific, but not in a checklist sort of way. For me, the best outcomes are framed in terms of what it will feel and 'be' like when we are successful.
- A good idea of how to get there. It's kind of like David Allen talks about in his "Getting Things Done" model - you won't be successful until you can see yourself doing it. That doesn't mean you have all the answers, but it does mean you have a good idea of some of the things you need to do to get the answers.
Get your wins along the way
The interesting aspect of Jim's quote above is that you need to feel like you can win. The art here is to set at least some goals that are challenging, but that have a high probability of getting done. If you never win, you never feel like a winner, and you can create an unhealthy dynamic within your team.
I've seen lots of sports teams where it took one good win to turn the tide from a losing record to a winning one - there is something very powerful in the psychology of even a small win.
This is true at many levels:
- As managers, part of our job is to help our teams feel challenged, but to have enough wins along the way that they feel like winners.
- As team members, we need to hold our teams accountable to blending the possible with the impossible.
- As parents, we need to help our kids learn to set goals that stretch them but allow them to taste success on a regular basis.
- As individuals, we need to set our own goals with the same philosophy.
It's a delicate - but very important - balance.
How do you approach this challenge? Any best practices (or hard-won lessons) to share?