Play At Full Power: Move Beyond Goal-Setting

What was your New Year’s resolution? Working out at the gym regularly? Saving enough money for retirement? Spending more time with friends and family? Whatever it was, Congratulations – and good luck! The New Year brings a cyclical opportunity to rethink how we spend our time and energy. But setting goals is the easy part.

The same is true in business. Many companies set annual strategic goals or priorities. Some cascade them down to different regions, countries, and functional teams. A few companies go so far as to translate the strategic priorities of business units into individual job priorities. Just like setting your sights on getting into great shape, company-wide goal setting often does lead to better performance.

But goals are just the targets. They go up the wall before you start the game. Your biggest challenge as a leader comes next:  Helping the people on your team deliberately choose how to spend their precious time, attention and energy on achieving those business goals. Not just once or twice a year, but every day, hour and minute that they are working.

So how do you get your team laser-focused on hitting these targets? How can you keep people in the game without being too demanding, micromanaging or monolithic? These five steps will help your people play at full power.

1) Start by owning your power. You are the boss. Don’t get hung up on the fact that “boss” is sometimes a dirty word in today’s corporate culture. If you don’t own it, someone will try to own it for you. And if no one owns the leadership position, your team will secretly resent you for not stepping up. So just take the heat and accept that you are the one in charge.

Remember that there are no one-size-fits-all rules to being a good boss. So practice being the boss you want to be. Do you want to play the role of mentor, servant, coach, player or some combination? You get to decide what fits best with your personality and what your team needs from you right now. Be that gal or guy.

2) Live the mission of your team. Always communicate your team’s purpose in the big picture. Is it to make money? If so, how much?  Is it to scale your impact? What is that impact? Is it to serve your internal or external customers? What do they care about most?  What is the overall objective of your team’s game?

Now choose your words carefully to define that mission and purpose. You will need to live by those words and repeat them often with genuine passion and gusto. Show your team by example how everything they do is part of achieving the mission.

3) Create your short list of priorities. Tighten your focus to three or four priorities. In the event of a massive disaster – a market crash or severe hurricane damage – determine what parts of your team’s mission are critical to keeping the business running. Then ask yourself: What is your team actually doing right now?

You can’t just write these priorities down once or twice a year. If they are mission-critical, you need to refer back to them constantly. Encourage your team to use these priorities as a framework to make decisions again and again about how they use their time, attention and energy.

4) Make rules that lead to your priorities. Once your team is clear about the priorities, create rules that support them. Your team can choose how to spend their time, attention and energy based on whether or not they are focused on these priorities. You’ll know they are good rules if they help your team find the shortest paths to their targets.

That also means your people get to say “no” to everything else. They get to call each other (and you!) out for engaging in detractors from those priorities. They get to shut down time-wasters, attention-grabbers and energy-suckers. Encourage your team to decide how to avoid, minimize or cut down on these detractors, even if your behavior happens to be one of them.

5) Get your own house in order. Before you make yourself a role model and subject yourself to the scrutiny of your team, take a good hard look at how you spend your time, attention and energy now.

For a simple, eye-opening experience, try tracking your time against your top three priorities – and everything else you spend your time on – for a day or even a week. You will probably be surprised by the time-wasters, attention-grabbers and energy-suckers that are taking precious resources away from focusing on your priorities. It may be social media, extraneous meetings, unexpected conversations that go on for too long or the clutter on your laptop.  Whatever they are, ask how you can avoid, minimize and cut down on them.  Then take the steps necessary to free up your time, attention and energy.

Goal-setting is essential – but don’t stop there. Use the New Year to define and embody your mission, priorities and leadership role so your team can play at full power.

This article was the third of my new leadership column for Forbes. To read more about how business leaders can embrace and solve global challenges through innovation, follow me on ForbesTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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