Shave your hairy goals

Companies consist of people. To lead a company, you must lead people. To lead people, you must first lead yourself. And for people to want to be lead, you must know where you're going.
Portrait of a buffalo – Shave your hairy goals. Photo by Markus Spiske

When Future Board’s communication coordinator asked me to write this blog post, giving me a free hand to write about almost any topic, I was excited. There are so many things I’d like to bring up! However, this is a blog post, not a self help book, so I ended up defining the topic as ‘the ultimate purpose of self-leadership – the goal and the setting of it’.

The successful companies of today have been built predominantly according to good governance: owners – board – operative organisation. And there’s a reason for it. It’s very understandable that seeing the forest from the trees is difficult when you’re busy, which is why different levels are needed for tackling the different stages of development.

Lose your ego, rather have it right than be right.

When it comes to self-leadership, however, too often the trees get mixed up with the forest. In the business world, “player-coaches” are still all too often a rule without exception, even though every successful player has a coach.

For example, in cross country skiing, we understand that despite the fact that you have been skiing your whole life, there are always things that you don’t notice yourself or can’t see. There’s also always someone who knows something better than you. In other words, if leading a company alone is difficult, self-improvement and self-leadership are difficult too.

Don’t lead alone! … at least if you want to reach the next level. “Lose your ego, rather have it right than be right.”

Once the ego has been overcome, we can get to the heart of my post: the goal itself and the setting of it. Just like our own areas of development – as funny as it sounds – our own goals are often difficult to crystallise alone, too.

“Big hairy goals” are currently trendy in the Finnish business world. “Shoot to the stars and end up in the moon.”

It doesn’t matter if you don’t reach your goal, because you’re still moving forward. I understand this American-style philosophy. Especially as a reminder and kick in the butt for us humble Finns. “If you don’t dare to think big, you can never achieve anything big.”

But are you truly moving to the right direction? In order to maximise the engaging and motivating effect of goals, I swim against the current of “big hairy goals”.

What happens when a big hairy goal has been achieved?

How engaging, motivating and genuinely meaningful is a goal that’s possible only provided that everything turns out almost perfectly? Or if, during these behaviour pattern changing pandemic times, it has been set for longer than three years in the future?

The world changes. A goal that’s been completely carved in stone can become impossible and unnecessary due to mere practical changes. On the other hand, what happens once a “big hairy goal” has been achieved?

I can’t say I have any experience of this, so I’ll use Andre Agassi as an example. For his entire childhood, his dad’s and eventually his own goal was to be the world’s best tennis player. The same big hairy goal remained for decades as they moved towards one single moment in time. Agassi succeeded at it, against all odds.

However, once he got to the top of the ranking, he became depressed and essentially stopped playing tennis for a while, because happiness and meaningfulness in his life didn’t increase. On the contrary – once the goal had been achieved and abandoned, it was replaced by emptiness.

The story “naturally” has a happy ending. Without further spoiling the reading experience, a deeper meaning and the right goal stemmed from what he could create thanks to his success. (Suggested reading: Open, Andre Agassi)

I think companies should set their goals based on a vision and mission – a reason to exist. But in self leadership, a meaningful goal often stems from something as dull sounding as everyday life.

I, a human, am more than the job I do. In many life situations, work might seem to take 100% of our time, goals and thinking, but having work as our sole motivator is seldom sustainable. Self-leadership and self-improvement aren’t therefore just about increasing our knowledge and capabilities related to our work, but they are a comprehensive process for pursuing a better, more motivating and happier everyday life.

How can everyday life be defined as a goal?

I’m sure there are many ways, but I have been guided by a question an acquaintance asked me a little more than four years ago: “If money wasn’t an issue and you could do anything you wanted,

  • what would your day look like in five years time?
  • what does your day consist of?
  • what do you do?
  • where do you live?
  • who do you spend time with?
  • if you had to define your personal mission, what would it be?”

I think these are the things that can and should be identified and made concrete – time management, interests and meaningful relationships. “Striving for a meaningful life – everyday life that you don’t need a break from.” But everyday life alone isn’t enough.

Just like a mere “big hairy goal”, a meaningful everyday life alone may lead to nothing but fantasies, what – ifs and daydreams.

“On his first visit to the gym in Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger probably didn’t think that he would end up becoming the Governor of California.”

We need structure. Therefore, I requested a comment from the best creator of structure for self-leadership and goal-setting I know – our CEO Jani Modig.

Jani compared goal-setting to sailing. The world changes, the boat available for our use and its cargo change, the sea is never completely the same. Depending on the different internal and external factors and motivators, the person must choose harbours to head towards in order to “sell the cargo” and celebrate reaching the goal aka succeeding. The harbours shouldn’t be too far away, either. No one can recognise themselves or their harbour ten years from now.

On his first visit to the gym in Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger probably didn’t think that he would end up becoming the Governor of California.

On the other hand, reaching the harbour, succeeding, and the genuine happiness related to it is a feeling that we all need. In other words – alongside everyday life – Jani brought up the vital operative goals which create structure and emotional experiences.

Humans aren’t rational machines. Important experiential moments in the midst of our daily lives create emotions and give us energy and additional motivation.

To summarise:

Don’t lead alone! Make genuine connections that give your life substance, help you understand and take you forward.

Self-leadership is a comprehensive process towards both better everyday life and genuine emotional climaxes.

As is the case with the goal setting of companies, setting goals for the purposes of self-leadership should consist of both the future daily life (vision) and harbours (operative goals).

Rambled by