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Personal and Professional Goal Setting

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”

-Alan Lakein

Over the years I have worked with many great planners in Arkansas Army National Guard. In fact, as military leaders, it is part of our professional DNA. From the military decision-making process to the strategic planning process, military leaders at all levels learn and practice the benefits of organizational planning.

Unfortunately, as we work the plans for our organizations, we often neglect our own personal and professional plans. As a coach and mentor, I know the power and benefits of setting personal goals, often helping others to use goals to move forward in their lives. This is a quick post I wrote that you can use for your personal and professional benefit.

Numerous authors, researchers, and self-help gurus identify three characteristics found in effective and successful individuals. Their personal accountability, commitment, and they write down their personal goals. Since we are focusing on goal-setting, a common definition for a goal is an exact and tangible result you want, for which you are willing to expend specific effort towards in order to achieve.

The benefits of setting goals range from defining real actions vs. wishful thinking, the ability to set priorities in our life, but most importantly, goals provide an azimuth and route to follow giving us a better chance of getting what we want in the future. As Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up somewhere else!” With an idea of what we want, what is most important to us, and a written plan to get what we want, we take control of our future instead of leaving it up to chance and circumstance.

Once we decide we want to create goals for our future, it is important to use an effective format to go beyond the realm of fuzzy goal-setting into an actionable plan for results. The basic formula for a goal includes three key elements: an accomplishment to be achieved, a measurable outcome, and a specific date and time to accomplish the goal. However, a more detailed format for a goal or objective can be found in the five-step SMART acronym which stands for being:

Specific: Effective goals are well-defined and provide focus. Gary Ryan Blair, The Goals Guy, states, “Focus creates a powerful force: goal power. The moment you focus on a goal, your goal becomes a magnet, pulling you and your resources toward it. The more focused your energies, the more power you generate.”

Measurable: Numbers, metrics, and “keeping score” is an important part of tracking progress. Experts agree that putting concrete numbers and measurement in your goals is a sure way to determine if you’re on track, enabling you to determine when the objective is met.

Attainable: Realistic goals are essential in our personal and professional lives. I have worked for leaders who aimed for the stars and understand the reason for dreaming big, but we must also keep one foot firmly on the ground when we set goals.

Relevant: Base your goals on the current conditions of your life, not a false picture of your situation or someone else’s wants or desires. Wanting to please others is normal, but our goals are, well…our goals. This is your life, your situation is unique, and your goals should reflect what you want in relation to your current situation.

Time-Based: Nothing is better than a deadline to make something real. Goals without a ‘no later than’ time will take a backseat to other things in life, so choose a time-frame to accomplish your goal.

Using the three step goal format or the SMART acronym, here are some examples of effective goals:

- I will complete 50% of my college degree by June 2020.

- I will decrease my financial debt by 50% by September 2020.

- I will lose 15 pounds in the next four months.

Goals are an effective part of planning for the future, and using the right three to five elements will ensure our goals are clear, realistic, and actionable. I ask you to consider using a SMART format the next time you create or review your goals and objectives, and better yet, share this format with your subordinates to ensure they structure their goals for success. Based on military leadership doctrine, developing ourselves and others is a critical leadership competency, and producing a plan to achieve individual and organizational success is a necessary part of preparing our current and future leaders.


-Goal Setting 101: How to Set and Achieve a Goal by Gary Ryan Blair

-7 Reasons Good People Still Fail by Sid Savara

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