Tag Archives: goal setting

A Highschool Writing Assignment

It seemed such an easy request – share a card or letter for a soon to be high school graduate.  We soon came to the harsh realization that this was no easy assignment.  Over the last 7-8 years we have quite literally watched a young girl mature into a fine young woman, but to have a teenager willingly and positively acknowledge the presence of any adult is such a wonderful exception.  Adults that are nothing more than friends of her parents, well one could say flattering even.  Of course we would oblige – it was a special honor.  And there the easy, flattering part ended and the real weight of what we were asked began to sink in…writing for a teenager.

We debated how to approach this and quickly realized there were basically two paths – the easy and the hard.  We could just buy a card, compose a quick “congratulations on your accomplishment/good luck on your journey/you are a wonderful person” note, or we could actually take some time and really capture the moment.  We could honestly and openly share of ourselves, maybe include a few lessons learned, thank a teen for opening up to us, share how special it is to give of oneself, and above all encourage her to look forward and embrace the life that lies ahead.  Of course, neither of us wanted to come off as “preachy”.  The last thing we wanted to have happen was the venerable “teen eye roll”.

It was an interesting and rewarding task, looking back and thinking about what really mattered.  What things you wish somebody would have told you.  Let’s be honest, we were told all of these things, but we did not listen – we were all teens once, and damn if we did not know everything at 17.   In the end, it seemed to boil down to a couple of simple things…go to class, visit every professor during office hours at least once, always embrace the moment – good or bad – embrace it all, surround yourself with positive people, and simply ignore all the extraneous noise and just live your life.

So it has been a year since we wrote our letters.  Who knows if any of it really mattered, but I do know that someone has thrived their first year of college; their first year away from home.  Grades are good (going to class really works), they know their professors (yes, it has helped making a point to see them during office hours), they are doing all that college has to offer (campus life, philanthropy, intramural sports, part-time jobs, and dare I say the “social scene”).  But above all they are realizing what real, lifelong friendship really means, how special it is to meet people who care about you, your dreams, your goals.  Who actually encourage and help you in those pursuits.

So who knows, maybe we wrote something of value.  What we did realize pretty quickly last year as we were writing is that most of the lessons learned, short of “take a road trip”, is actually still very applicable to our current life.  Surround ourselves with positive people, ignore the extraneous noise and live your life, always get up and go to work, see the boss now and again, and above all embrace all that life offers – good and bad.  Yea, we need to stop and realize in some ways life really is pretty simple.

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Goals Met, Visions Lost

Beyond Tang, it is hard to say how much manned space flight has really meant to the progress of science, technology, society and the overall human experience. However, it is tough to deny, there was something amazing about the idea of putting men on the moon. I mean really, think that through next time you are outside looking at the night sky. For many a trip to the store is a journey. Driving to Disney is a high point in family memories. Going to Europe – big stuff.  NASA has been putting people in space and safely returning them to earth now for almost 50 years…staggering.

It all ends in a few days. With the landing of Atlantis later this week, the United States and NASA are officially out of the manned space flight business. Who knows what the final tally in cost really is, and there is absolutely no way to calculate a return on the investment made.  Regardless, it is the end of an era. However one might feel about NASA, space flight, budgets and cost, it is the end of something that was special. It was without question a massive success, a source of pride to millions, and one hell of an example for goal setting and achievement.

Goals are a peculiar thing – some folks write them down, some post them on facebook, and now and again a President lays them out for everyone to hear. Public expressions of goals are scary – you literally put yourself on the hook – everyone will know if you succeed or fail. There is no cover and no excuses.  When focus and committment are required, make the goal public.

The converse of the above also holds – not having goals leads to lack of focus, committment and vision.  When a person or organization has nothing to aim for, when there is no goal, it is an absolute certainty that morale, productivity and pride will all suffer.  It has to be tough for NASA, to have accomplished so much, to have achieved such goals, to have been at the forefront of innovation, and know the end is literally just a few days away.  Imagine what could be if only there was a goal.

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The Dog That Caught Car

Being the outsider, the opposition, the one with the better idea is always easy. The good idea fairy. The one with the great sound bite, the novel approach, the wisdom that can only come from not being the one in charge.  We have seen it all too often in business, the team member who just always knows the right answer…always.  The sports team where the owner, the players, the fans – they all know better than the current coach.  And of course, in politics, entertainment, and just in life in general.

Muslim Brotherhood, GOP or Nancy Pelosi. Ask any of them – it is easy to declare how incompetent and misguided the current leadership is; how terribly wrong things have gone. However, when the pendulum swings, which it always does, the reality of how hard it is sets in…leading is much harder than it looks.

Being the font of “good ideas” and a “better course” are easy roles to take on, and roles in which you will always look good and be loved. Quite literally you can say whatever it is people want to hear. But be warned – someday circumstances will change; the opposition becomes the leader.  It is then that everything gets much harder.

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Leadership and Vision

To grasp and hold a vision, that is the very essence of successful leadership — not only on the movie set where I learned it, but everywhere.
— Ronald Reagan

If there is one thing everyone could agree on when it came to Ronald Reagan, the man had vision.  There is no question he had a vision in every leadership role he ever held.  In the Screen Actors Guild, as Governor of California, and as President the man always had a vision of where he was going, and he held to that vision.  As a leader, no one ever questioned his vision.  Obviously many questioned the wisdom of the vision, the wisdom of the journey, the course he had chosen, but no one ever wondered if he had an objective.

Leaders have to be able to translate vision into action.  Not their own action, but action from those they are leading.  Communicating the vision in a way that results in true buy-in is a critical element.  Many leaders can communicate, but it is a special few who can actually hold on to that vision AND see it become a reality.  Selling the idea is one thing; having others take action is an entirely different issue.

As a leader, Reagan was undeniably gifted at outlining his vision and sharing that vision with others.  At its core, the vision never changed.  It was direct, concise, and easily defined.  He had a very unique ability to envision a goal and communicate that vision to a very broad, diverse, and often splintered audience in such a way that his vision became theirs.  He was able to gain buy-in – sometimes very cautious, begrudging buy-in, but buy-in nonetheless.

While grasping and holding a vision is easy in theory, it becomes much harder in the face of adversity.  And that is a fundamental requirement of great leaders – they must hold on to their vision.  Never waver, and never doubt.  It is interesting in a way, the other great leaders of the Reagan Presidency, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, also never wavered; they never doubted.  Opinion pools, protests, challenges, tough times – nothing shook their core vision.  And yet their ability to lead was complimented by their ability to work with others, to build relationships and partners, to find a path that was acceptable to all.

It has been refreshing to hear the stories and read of the celebrations of what would have been President Reagan’s 100th birthday.  Time seems to heal many wounds and temper grudges, even in politics.  Having a vision, holding that vision, and communicating that vision to others – call it the Ronald Reagan gift for all leaders.


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Of GM, ND and Realistic Expectations

Head Football Coach at Notre Dame. CEO for GM.  Couple prestigious job opportunities have come open in the last few days.  Dare I say each will also bring a healthy compensation plan and just a few “additional benefits”.  However, just because the job sounds great, it does not mean it is the right next move for you, either professionally or personally.  Sometimes there is a great deal more to consider than just the title, the compensation and the prestige when evaluating the next step in your career.  Specifically, does the role entail realistic expectations?

Talk about situations in which realistic expectations are not exactly the norm.  Turning around the massive, floundering ship that is GM while satisfying the UAW and answering to the federal government, or meeting the incredibly lofty expectations of the Notre Dame football fans and alumni, NBC and every sports talk radio host in North America.  Certainly some tall orders.  While we all embrace challenges and thrive in the face of adversity, the realist must consider what is truly expected relative to what is truly achievable.  While we all have goals, make no mistake that in any situation there are other stakeholders and shareholders who influence and often set expectations regardless of how based in reality they or their expectations might be.  In the end they will determine your fate.

The corollary to the above is that as a leader you have to not only evaluate if you have realistic expectations set for you, but are you setting realistic expectations for your team and organization?  Ensuring you are putting yourself in a viable position for  professional success is critical.  Ensuring you have put others in viable situations with realistic expectations is equally important.  In the end, how can you attract and retain the best talent if you have set unrealistic expectations for their performance.

Lofty goals are wonderful. However, lofty AND achievable goals are mandatory. If expectations are not based in reality, success will never be achieved.  And just as success breeds success, so to the momentum of failure breeds its own sense of inevitability in an organiztion.  Fair or not, morale on all levels is undercut by the perception of failure.  Setting yourself or others up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is just plain silly.

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