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Set Yourself Courageous Goals

By  Ian Day

Imagine what could be achieved if you could set goals that were so inspirational and motivational that people would step up and deliver transformational performance. How often does this happen in your business?

In our book ‘Challenging Coaching – Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS’, John Blakey and I suggest that traditional forms of goal-setting do not tap into the full potential of individuals, teams or organisations. All too often goals are not transformational; people play safe and play small. Goals that are set are incremental, and with the fear of failure ever-present, they are also risk-averse. As the saying goes “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got!”

Goals provide clarity and so they play a crucial part of any organisation. When people have goals they have the focus to align action with the strategy of the business. In the current economic climate we need to encourage goals that are bold and plot a course out of the challenges we face. These goals are big, audacious and involve risk. They are transformational, so they require courage – hence our term “courageous goals”.

Once they are achieved, courageous goals lead to a great feeling of pride, so a legacy is created. Contrast this with the achievement of traditional incremental goals. So what if we’ve achieved a 10% cost saving for the third year running! We tick it off the list and quickly move on to the next task. Nothing has changed, there is no transformation, and we have the same thing to look forward to next year.

To bring this to life, here are some examples of traditional goals and some courageous alternatives:

Traditional: Increase sales by 15%.
Courageous: Close the largest deal we’ve ever made.

Traditional: Improve efficiency by 10%.
Courageous: A ten-fold improvement in efficiency.

Traditional: Increase the share price of our pharmaceutical company by 10%.
Courageous: Eliminate the disease of malaria from the world by 2015.

The courageous goals above have an energy and excitement that provides motivation and inspiration far beyond the traditional goals. However as they are so audacious, the possibility of failure is greater. Maybe this is why we see few courageous goals, because we fear failure.

Setting a courageous goal is a simple three-stage process: dream, share, and start. First we dream about what is possible. Forget the constraints of the present moment and think of a goal that would really excite you. What would make you the best in the world? What is your equivalent of winning an Olympic gold medal? Don’t think about timescales, set the goal far enough into the future so you don’t worry about how it will be achieved. Be aware of your worries and concerns, but don’t let these hold you back. Take a risk; be bold and then even bolder. When you feel both nervous and passionate, you know you have a courageous goal.

Secondly share. Share the courageous goal by publicly declaring it out loud. Through this there is a commitment, and others can support you and also hold you accountable.

Then start working on the goal. This is when the dream is turned into reality. It is no longer a fantasy and it becomes real through action. As the saying goes “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. A small step that leads to success reinforces the action and encourages the journey.

Entrepreneurs and business leaders can move beyond traditional goals to set courageous goals and so create a step change for individuals and organisations. Work with an executive coach or ask yourself “If you believed anything was possible, what would you want to achieve?” Now set yourself that courageous goal.


Ian DayIan Day works as an executive coach and is co-author, along with John Blakey, of “Challenging Coaching – Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS”. To find out more visit




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