The obsession over goal-setting in leadership may have reached the tipping point when the pursuit of a goal actually prevents you from achieving your purpose.
I was reminded of this sobering truth recently when choosing the next leadership book I might tackle.
Among the great leaders of the last century, one who’s life has provided me with both inspiration and insight is Winston Churchill. And so, with the publication of the latest biography on his life, entitled Churchill; Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts, I purposed to add this to my 2019 reading list.
But at more than 1100 pages, I realized that it would take me perhaps 6 weeks to work my way through such a volume. The problem? I have a goal to read 30 books per year, and if I were to devote so much of my time to a single volume, it might make it difficult for me to reach my goal.
As a colleague saw me wrestling with this decision, he brought blinding clarity to the absurdity of my dilemma. “You want to read this book, correct?”
“Yes”, I sheepishly nodded.
“But you are considering not reading it because it will prevent you from reaching your reading goal?”
“Well…” I mumbled, “Ya. That’s the issue.”
Smiling and walking away, he chuckled, “Your goals are messed up…”
Of course, he was painfully right. My goals were messed up.
Thankfully, another leadership book I read this year helped me to get back in balance. In Atomic Habits; Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, author James Clear reminds us, among other insights, that the goal should not be to “read 20 books a year”, but to develop the habits of a reader (eg, to read 30 minutes per day).
What are the bottom line lessons this entire episode has taught me?
In the right context, goals matter
Use goals as tools, not obsessions
The right habits are more useful than the right goals
I have just finished reading the Churchill biography. It is, without question, one of the greatest biographies I have ever read, and the insights I have gleaned from Churchill’s wins and his failures will surely help me in my own growth as a leader.
And to think that I just about missed out on reading this incredible leadership book, because it might have caused me to miss my goal to read great leadership books.