What is a goal?

Dec 18 08:20 2008 John Kenworthy Print This Article

Everyone at some point in their life has heard that it is important for us to have goals. Goals provide you a map to your future, whether in business, life, career or indeed sport. But, just what is a goal?

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What do we mean by a 'goal'? It seems that these things are important,Guest Posting yet, so few people have them and some have been woefully misled by the term.

Everyone at some point in their life has heard that it is important for us to have goals. Goals provide you a map to your future, whether in business, life, career or indeed sport. It seems obvious, but a football team playing without a goal to aim for is just kicking a ball around. But, other than the more obvious physical goals as the target of a particular game, what exactly is a goal? And how do you know when you have achieved it? Is it even very important to have goals? A sporting goal is a useful analogy though, here we are more interested in the non-sporting variety.

The OED definition of a goal is "an aim or a desired result".

That's useful, but I prefer the Wikipedia version which defines a goal as "a specific, intended result of strategy."

They amount, ultimately to the same thing: the intended achievement of a desired result. The dictionary definition, however, suggests that the goal exists with or without you.

Why is this important? I hear some question already. Let me share an example: On the horizon is a mountain, its peak visible on this glorious day. It is your goal. You are aiming to reach the peak of this mountain.

According to the dictionary the goal is the mountain peak. According to the encyclopaedia, the intended result is that you reach the mountain peak as a result of the journey (intended strategy) you are making.

What's important, the existence of the goal or the journey to its attainment? Let me refer briefly back to soccer... Is the existence of the goal at the end of the pitch the thing that makes the game, or is it the strategy (and tactics) employed by players to score (reach) the goal?

The reason for being pedantic at this stage is to stress that we refer (in English) to goal as both an entity and as the intended result of our actions. For the purposes of this article, I refer to goal as both - an entity that we are able to describe in one or more of the five senses we enjoy and as a specific, intended result. I believe that it is critical that a goal can be described in one or more of our senses - otherwise we will never know what it is.

"A man without a goal, you are like a ship without a rudder." Thomas Carlyle

You know people, perhaps yourself, who would be lost without a "To Do" list. Daily, weekly, monthly tasks that result in specific intended results. Many people will consider this as their goals. Indeed, you can call them 'goals' if you wish. But I want to distinguish this concept further. I call these daily, weekly, monthly tasks "Outcomes" - they are important steps on the way to achieving goals but they are a small part of the overall intended result.

I'll borrow from my own To Do list for today. It includes, strangely enough, writing this chapter. Now, is my goal to a chapter of mybook? Is it to write a book? I can answer yes to both yet it doesn't tell us the full story - my Goal is to develop my business and as a part of that, I want to reach a wider audience for the purpose of building my brand, building my reputation and establishing myself as a trusted expert that you will now consider to design and run a training programme or undertake coaching in your organisation. This chapter is just one part of that strategy, and this section, just one part of this chapter. The primary and secondary research I've undertaken to be in a position to write, I trust, knowledgeably about goal-setting has been another part... and so on.

It is the goal that helps us determine the appropriate outcomes necessary to reach the goal, the specific outcomes help determine the actions we undertake to achieve them. The whole series together, makes a strategy.

For ease and clarity, I consider a "Goal" to be longer-term and the intended result of a strategy. "Outcomes" are the result of the steps, milestones or activities that we achieve en-route to achieving the goal.

When I was a child, schoolteachers and relatives would often ask "And what do you want to be when you grow up?" I honestly didn't have a clue. My friends seemed to have got the hand of this and I discovered that the expected answers seemed to be focusing around jobs or careers "I want to be a Fireman/Doctor/Train Driver", or perhaps something bolder like "Rock Star/Famous Actor" - or around money... "I want to be a millionaire". Apparently it didn't matter what you wanted to be - it still required that you studied hard, preferably got all A Grades - oh and it was critically important that you "eat all your greens". Quite how Brussels Sprouts are a necessity for success has never been answered fully to my satisfaction. By the time I was a teenager, I was at the "I dunno" stage. And by the time I was choosing my A level subjects it seemed that my options were becoming limited. Artist was ruled out on the recommendation of my delightful art teacher who claimed that my lovingly crafted painting "hurt her eyes" and Author was ruled out because I had little taste for over-analysing Jane Austin's Northanger Abbey.

To my knowledge, none of my friends answered "I wish to be a wage slave pushing paper from one side of a building to another, politically manoeuvring myself into a position of power and authority, attending useless meetings each day and commute for 4 hours" so what went wrong?

Well, perhaps it is the goal-setting process. But, that's another lesson.

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John Kenworthy
John Kenworthy

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