Goal Setting Leaders
Put their legacies first?
Put their legacies first?
What separates goal setting leaders from the crowd? In any given situation, the best leaders are inclined to look at the bigger picture.
It’s true that immediate life goals are important – life is for living, after all. However, leaders might reasonably ask: is real success measured by what we have, or by what we leave behind? As Russell Crowe’s “Maximus” shouts, when exhorting his troops to battle in the opening scenes of the epic film “Gladiator”:
“What we do in this life echoes in eternity!”
Think about this, and the other quotes below. Ask yourself: how do you measure success, and what lasting contribution would you like to make?
In our article: Stress Management Tip, we discussed the ideas of Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson. In their book: Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life, these two Harvard academics encourage us to re-frame how we think about success. The opening lines from this book are worthy of any goal setting leaders:
“Success is clearly about more than making money, but it’s also not just about happiness. You can have wealth and pleasure and still feel dissatisfied on many fronts. So what is real success, and what does it take to achieve it in lasting terms that benefit you and others? How do you prepare your children and your business to succeed on the goals they most deeply value and have a reasonable chance of obtaining?”
Nash and Stevenson argue that “enduring success” is only achieved by achieving a balance between:
Or as Ralf Waldo Emerson put it:
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Fine words and sentiments, but for goal setting leaders they beg key questions. For whom should we try to make a difference? How big does that difference need to be, and how do we go about making it? Perhaps some useful answers can be found in the thoughts of past and present goal setting leaders.
In our book “Uncommon Leadership” we tell the unusual story of UK retailer John Lewis, celebrating 150 years of trading, in 2014. John Lewis is a good example of goal setting leaders leaving a legacy. It’s a business with a difference, one that has succeeded over the long term, with a reputation for high quality products and for being a great place to work. But it is also a business with another legacy, as we note in our book: “It’s because John Lewis does business differently, and it’s a very startling difference. To begin with, how many businesses can you name that put the happiness of their employees (or partners) at the core of everything they do?”
John Lewis illustrates how goal setting leaders can make an impact, but it doesn’t always have to be focused on the big things in life.
One definition of a legacy is something handed down by a predecessor. It’s easy to focus on ancestral bequests when thinking of legacies, but we mustn’t forget the value of the less tangible things we leave behind. Take Ralf Waldo Emerson’s definition of success:
“to laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived; this is to have succeeded.”
Evan Carmichael‘s website is a rich source of information on goal setting leaders. Consider these Andrew Carnegie quotes, from the site. One of history’s most famous entrepreneurs, Carnegie’s essay: Gospel of Wealth had a profound influence on his generation of industrialists. He once said: “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” Before his death, Carnegie had given away the bulk of his vast fortune (over $4 billion at a year 2000 equivalence). “Surplus wealth” he said, “is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.”
However, the scale of a legacy is less important than the spirit with which it is left. Whether the billions made by Carnegie Steel, or Emerson’s poetic notions, the importance of legacy is simply that it makes a difference. Even that which costs nothing is of value, provided it’s given freely. A fact perhaps even recognised by Carnegie himself, when he said: “There is little success where there is little laughter”.
There are numerous techniques to help us build legacies into our plans. Modern goal setting leaders frequently propose a range of activities. Different forms of visualisation are amongst the most effective.
In The Success Principles, Jack Canfield writes of his experiences with “come as you will be” parties. At these, guests dress and act as they envisage themselves to be at an agreed future date. Emerson would have approved of one woman guest who paid an actress to appear as her teenage daughter. The woman’s visualisation was of a fulfilling relationship with her healthy, happy, well-adjusted daughter.
Another advocate of visualisation is Stephen Covey. In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey talks about the power of this goal setting activity. Envisaging how our lives might be when celebrating landmark moments is a powerful experience. Successful visualisation can stimulate life-changing insights, triggered by deep emotional responses. These can alter any life goals, before it’s too late.
Another Covey suggestion is a variation on the premature obituary theme. He recommends writing your own eulogy as a visualisation technique, designed to focus the mind on defining life goals. However, the most famous example of a false obituary was a case of mistaken identity. Imagine reading your own obituary, published in error. And imagine if the the content was a stinging rebuke of your life’s work…
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” was one of many famous Mark Twain quotes. Harmless but witty. However, the impact of incorrect reports of Alfred Nobel’s death were much more profound. In 1888, a French newspaper mistook the healthy Swedish industrialist for his late brother, Ludwig. During his lifetime, Alfred Nobel’s most famous achievement was the invention of dynamite. Although this substance revolutionised mining and construction, Nobel’s premature obituary took an entirely different slant. It focused instead on the contribution his invention had made to modern warfare.
You could be one of life’s goal setting leaders. You don’t need to be a Carnegie or a Covey. Consider Emerson’s words, and think about how even the smallest contribution can alter the lives of people around us. As managers, you’re well placed to leave a significant legacy, for the individuals you work with, and the organisations you work for.
Here are some questions to think through:
Without doubt goal setting leaders need to think differently and ask some different questions. It is all too easy to focus on short term goals, which can all too often harm the long term.
You can also find our more about the benefits of goal setting in our e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals to help you do just this. The guide contains 30 pages and 5 tools to help you to set SMART goals, then take SHARP action to achieve them.
Tool 1: Conventional goal setting
Tool 2: Setting SMART goals that motivate
Tool 3: The kind of goals that will make you happier
Tool 4: Taking SHARP action
Tool 5: Team goals flowchart
Tool 6: Eight personal goal setting questions
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