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The Best Leaders Do Not Set Goals

Here’s what they do instead

Recently a friend told us about a goal of hers: She said she was going to run a marathon. More precisely, she told us she was going to run the Prague marathon in seven months’ time, in May. When asked why, off the top of her head, she shared a few of her reasons: that May was far enough away to give her time to go from “the couch to the course;” that the only marathon she could find around that time was in Prague; that she’d never been to Prague; that the course in Prague was known to be a mostly flat course and that a marathon was hard enough without throwing in those darn hills.

But, of course, none of these was the real reason she was running the marathon in Prague in May. The real reason was that she wanted to significantly improve her physical stamina, and running a marathon seemed like the best way — albeit a tad drastic — to achieve that end. All the other details — May, Prague, a flat course — were simply her way of making that end more tangible, and, therefore, more hers.

This, at their best, is what goals do for us. They enable us to take what we value most and, by adding detail and timelines, to “chunk” these values into a describable outcome, something vivid and tangible. Visualized in our mind’s eye, our goal pulls us forward, up and off the couch, and onto the road early one frigid Saturday morning in January, late one drizzly evening in March. Our goal becomes our companion, nestled in one corner of our psyche, pulsating, nudging us onward, guiding our thoughts and actions and giving us the energy to push through the tiredness, the injuries and the self-doubt, until one day we round the corner in Wenceslas Square and, alongside other people with other goals, complete our marathon.

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