When is a dream too big? When is it not big enough? When should the dream change? And who should be the one sorting it all out for an organization and/or team pushing for greatness?
YOU, the leader.
There is no other person that can do it most effectively, or with the most impact.
In fact, I’d argue that this is probably the most important job for high-level leaders- they also need to be Chief Calibration Officers.
Setting the right targets and goals over the short and long terms is a fine art that requires a delicate blend of unbridled optimism and cold-eyed realism, sometimes bordering on schizophrenia.
(I’ve experienced that plenty of times in my career, at one moment preaching about a “BHAG” – the Big, Hairy Audacious Goal – and just a few moments later drilling down and coming to terms on a missed quarterly target)
Set them too aggressively, and hopelessness, frustration, and unhappiness are almost certain to set in.
For as George Washington said, “We must consult our means rather than our wishes”.
Set them too conservatively, and a false sense of security, stagnation, and a culture of mediocracy are sure to follow.
For as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.“.
See what I mean? Someone has to step into this mass of contradictions and calibrate the dreams and goals; that is, adjust them in just the right way for their maximum effectiveness.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten about this calibration was summarized so well by Don Lancaster – “Most ‘impossible’ goals can be met simply by breaking them down into bite sized chunks, writing them down, believing them, and then going full speed ahead as if they were routine.”
I can sum that up in three ways:
1) Dream big qualitatively, always
I always preached that our company needs to be “the best” or “the greatest” at what it does. That’s a good example of a BHAG that can resonate and work, because it it’s a big dream that can be “chunked” into tangible pieces, like pushing a customer service metric like a Net Promoter Score to the top of the industry charts.
2) Dream aggressively quantitatively over a long-term horizon, tempered by economic factors at the “macro” level
There is no reason to hold back on a 3-10 year plan from your grandest ambitions, provided that you’ve at least considered the macro conditions. For example, when I was in the cable television business we knew we couldn’t project an 80% video market share in the face of fierce competition from satellite providers, but, we did believe we could recapture a significant percentage if we could get our operations and product operating on all cylinders, under the umbrella of our BHAG qualitative goal (see #1 above).
3) Dream and Goal set realistically in a 12-24 month window, and, this is very important: If you hit them, raise the bar quickly.
It took me a long while to realize that George Washington’s quote above was SO right when it came to these timeframes. Unrealistic budgets and operational goals are morale (and job) killers. It is SO worth the time and effort to set difficult, but yet achievable short-term goals, mostly based on facts “on the ground” (i.e. our means). Every time I was part of a bad budget it spelled trouble. Every time. And, you cannot be afraid to re-do them if they are proving to be way off the mark. But most importantly, when a goal is hit, raise it again, immediately. Keep moving the target forward- that’s how the “bite-sized chunks” analogy really kicks in against the impossible dreams you set in #1 and #2.
So yes, YOU must be the Chief Calibration Officer. Dream away with your feet firmly planted on the ground, and show how the right balance can lead to greatness.