I remember as a child growing up, each weekend my family and I would listen to the radio as we drove down Route 301 to my grandparent’s home in Virginia. Every week, we would listen to American Top 40 Countdown with Casey Kasum. After he announced the #1 song in the land, he would faithfully sign off by saying, “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars!” The sixth letter on our servant leadership journey is all about setting goals:
Never set your goals too low…if you reach all your goals, there is a good chance they may be.
Of course, this implies that you have set goals in the first place, which is very important for a leader.
You might recall when we talked about vision; we discussed the importance of a leader charting a course for their organization and establishing a destination to drive towards. Goal setting is synonymous with vision. If you don’t set goals for yourself and your organization, what are you striving towards? As you go about setting these goals, you need to challenge yourself and your people. That is not to say you shouldn’t be realistic, but don’t be afraid to stretch yourself either. I may not be able to run a marathon in under 4 hours, but I can run 1.5 miles in under 10 minutes. Going back to Casey’s quote, “Keep your feet on the ground” is the realistic piece while “reaching for the stars” speaks to the challenge.
About 15 years ago, a friend was mentoring me and suggested I write down who I am on a piece of paper…what makes you tick? I thought it sounded like a great idea, so I did just that and I found it very useful. As I continued in my Air Force career, I’ve improved the product over time, based on each new position I served in. My version is titled “Who is Jim Vechery and What is He Doing Here?” In this two-page document, I outline who I am as a person based on my leadership style, my priorities, things I value, and of course my goals. I make it a point, as I prepare for each new job the Air Force brings my way, to craft some well thought out goals that are achievable but challenging. I generally list five personal goals and five professional goals. This exercise usually happens in the summer as that is when most transitions occur, which works great for me. You see, I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions (another form of goal setting), because the gym is simply too crowded the first few weeks of the New Year anyway
My Plan of Action
I am currently deployed to Afghanistan so when I prepared for my year away from home, I came up with the following goals:
- Live my life each day to glorify my God
- Be a devoted and loving husband and father; strive to keep in touch with my family daily
- Exercise a minimum of 5 times per week
- Read one book each month
- Keep a journal for my daughter by writing an entry each day
- Take care of our deployed family
- Set the stage to successfully transition my organization
- Effectively shape transition of tasks between military and civilian ownership
- Optimize communication flow between US Embassy and ISAF/USFOR-A teams
- Cultivate a Total Force Team mindset
With a short time left in my deployment, I can tell you I will not achieve all of these goals, but I will come close. My premise is that if I would have reached them all, they wouldn’t have been challenging enough.
Let me illustrate with a story. In the Air Force, we have to take a PT test and there is a minimum standard to pass. However, if you score 90 out of 100, then you only have to take the assessment annually vice every six months. So there are two Airmen who take their PT test and both achieve a good score of 83, which is well above the passing score of 75. The first Airman thinks they can do better and sets a goal of increasing the score by 5 points to achieve an 88. The second Airman also thinks they can do better and raises the bar by setting a goal of 90 so they can get on the annual program. For the next 6 months, both Airmen work hard at achieving their goal by practicing their run, pushups, sit-ups, and of course eating healthy to keep a good weight. During the next test, our first Airman scores an 88 and achieves their goal…awesome! The second Airman runs hard all the way to the finish line, but just misses a 90 by a few seconds and gets an 89; great improvement! While both Airmen should be congratulated for improving their score, the second Airman actually improved slightly more by striving towards a very challenging goal.
REACH for the Stars
As you REACH for the stars, there are five things you should remember as you go about striving to attain those challenging goals you set for yourself and your teammates:
- Realize you can do it if you put your mind to it. Nothing is out of your reach if you are focused and determined to do what it takes. Some days are harder than others, but you just need to get out of bed and get moving! Nike realized this when they used the advertisement “Just do it!” Three simple words to get you moving toward your goals.
- Each goal should be well thought out. Take time to assess where you are, where you want to go, and how you will get there. This will take energy so take the time upfront to think through your plan.
- Apply yourself! Keep swinging the bat every day—don’t give up! Some days you will strike out, some days you will hit a homerun, but chances are most days you will get a single or get thrown out at first. The key is consistent effort. As Larry the Cable Guy would say, “Get’er dun!”
- Chart a course for success! You don’t train for a marathon in a week. Seasoned runners follow a plan that takes months of hard work to prepare for the big race. Build a plan and stick to your plan. However, be prepared to make adjustments as necessary, because you never know what life might throw your way.
- Help others achieve their goals as well! What’s the meaning of crossing the finish line, if you look back and no one else is there with you? Take time to help those around you attain their goals as well. A healthy organization is one where everyone is working together to encourage one another and lift each other up.
A member of my unit exemplifies the importance of goal setting: during a seven month deployment, he performed exceptionally well in his primary liaison duties, earned his black belt in the Marine Corps martial arts program, taught Bible study, collected backpacks for young Afghan children, served as a medical first responder, ran in multiple races, built a boat out of water bottles, and the list goes on. It was clear that he didn’t just count the days during his deployment, he made the days count and used every opportunity to reach for the stars!
Homework: Make Your Plan!
I challenge you to make every day count as you reach for your goals. I recommend you take on the same exercise I did 15 years ago and write down who you are on a piece of paper—what makes you tick, what excites you, what annoys you? I believe you will find it a very beneficial exercise. Not only will it help you reflect and think through who you are as a person, but it is also useful to share with your teammates, particularly as new ones arrive. So after completing the exercise you have your goals written down…today you are here; you want to get there, so get out of your comfort zone and get after it; as Casey says, “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars!”