Where Has the Ambition Gone? Where There’s Ambition, Where is the Motivation?
by Stephen Ingalls, President & CEO
Our company, LGL Leadership, has been privileged to begin working alongside a large, national non-profit, supporting subordinate entities throughout the country, helping their thinking so that they can grow and thrive. I just returned from one such visit…
As part of the meeting I observed, volunteer leaders were asked to help derive new metrics for 2017, and to assess whether the goals being tracked as part of their strategic plan were, in fact, the right ones. This group of around 125 broke up into 10 smaller groups for this work, and I spent my time, moving from group to group, listening to their objective setting and the contextual dialogue. Much of what I heard made me mad.
Rather than figuring out how to advance this organization to a position of being world-class, these adults were, in several cases, suggesting softening their objectives in the name of “what we can realistically do.” Having just presented their 2016 accomplishments, others were keen to set objectives they knew they could meet so that their 2017 presentations would include achieving all established goals (modest goals, but…). As an aside, it is important to note that this day’s facilitator (not us) did not let these groups get away with goal regression, but the dialogue was obviously uncomfortable.
True…any leadership practitioner or manager worth their salt will have stumbled across the SMART acronym when working with objectives (definitions vary a tad, but generally — Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Related; unfortunately, another mnemonic replaces Assignable with Achievable – and there’s the rub).
I woke up the next morning still thinking about what I’d observed…a beloved national non-profit’s volunteers, working as part of a noble effort that attempts to support and preserve American culture into the next several generations, intent on setting a low bar. Wow.
My mind racing, President Kennedy’s words as we began our race to the moon came to the forefront. In a 1962 address at Rice University, he said, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
I’m taking that challenge with me when I return to this group next month. What I expect to hear is…”it’s un-achievable.” The response I intend to offer in as gentle and loving, yet challenging manner as possible is…”is IT un-achievable or are YOU unable (or unwilling) to achieve IT?”
For our family (personal and at work), but especially for my grandchildren, mediocrity isn’t attractive. Neither, by the way, is it for your organizations. Remind yourselves to dare greatly toward ridiculous levels of achievement. Your workforce, especially that millennial you’re struggling to lead, is looking to be inspired. Finally, if thinking about daring and achieving greatly makes you tired…maybe it’s time to leverage another’s talents (and they’re out there, trust me).
We don’t have all the answers, but if you want some help thinking through these challenges (strategic planning, daring greatly, BHAGs, leading millennials, succession planning, etc.), give LGL a call. Even if you don’t, we’d recommend you revisit one example of a grand objective in President Kennedy’s remarks (https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm).