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Educating, Engaging, and Empowering Young Leaders in Wisconsin


Leadership Standard: Goal Setting

November 15, 2022 12:00 PM | Anonymous

3 Things You’re Probably Getting Wrong About Goal Setting

When it comes to goal setting, we all know the anecdotes. 

“A goal without a plan is a dream”

“Don’t wish for it, work for it”

“A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot”

The WASC Leadership Standard for November is Goal Setting, with a benchmark that measures if a student “understands and participates in the process of setting, achieving, and evaluating goals”. 

And look - the quotes above aren’t just throw away words; I too find myself in need of an inspirational quote every now and again. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of the basics. But what these phrases of fortune cookie wisdom fail to capture is HOW to achieve a goal. It’s easy to teach students about DREAM or SMART goals, and help give them encouragement to follow a structure, but between the “planning” and the “achieving”, there are many challenges faced in the “doing”. Here are three common mistakes that are made when working toward a goal that are important to share with students. 

  1. Maintain a singular focus

As the image above satirically captures, trying to do too much at once can create sacrifices of time, quality, or resources. Brain research tells us that multitasking is a myth, a harsh truth that should cause us to rethink how we approach our work. I fully understand that “we don’t have time to do one thing at a time”, but it is through a singular, direct focus on a project or goal that the outcome will have the best chance to be both thorough and of high quality. 

  1. Don’t just acknowledge failure, embrace it

How often have you started to work toward something, experienced setbacks or struggles, and become frustrated? If your name is Bjorn, roughly 100% of the time. Yet we know that it is from these failures that our most lasting lessons are learned. You don’t have to go so far as to celebrate your failures, but rather embrace them by taking the time to dive deeply into each one. The lesson learned isn’t so much what to do differently to achieve the goal (though that’s the low-hanging fruit) but rather developing the mental toughness and emotional intelligence to not allow those failures to define you. 

  1. The importance of suspended disbelief

Goal setting is about balancing the difficult with the achievable. In my experience, however, the line between what is possible and what is not has been largely pre-defined by the people with whom I’m working. Their issue isn’t that they can’t do it, but rather that they’ve already categorized what can or cannot be done. To combat this, I take my group through an exercise designed to challenge those categories. I ask them to “take 5 minutes and live in a state of suspended disbelief”. I remove all of the barriers that are leading them to believe something cannot be done, and challenge them by saying “IF we were going to do this, setting aside x barrier, what could we accomplish”. This approach yields creative ideas and a renewed sense of empowerment. 

Setting and achieving goals is an important part of leadership and a vital skill that we can teach our students. By equipping them with more than just a goal setting framework, we are teaching them both how to work toward goals and how to do it in a way that is effective, efficient, and can help overcome adversity. 

And THAT is a goal worth setting. 


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