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Challenging coaching pt6: Courageous goals, moving beyond SMART


Continuing their series on challenging coaching Ian Day and John Blakey, co-authors of 'Challenging Coaching: Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS', take a look at courageous goals.
"The world we live in requires great courage and patience" - Tao Te Ching.
In our book 'Challenging Coaching' we introduce the FACTS coaching model to help coaches and leaders adopt a more challenging style in their coaching approach. Last month we looked at the 'A' in FACTS - Accountability. This month we move on to the 'C' of FACTS which stands for Courageous goals. Many people will be familiar with processes for target and goal setting such as SMART, but these approaches can be rational, incremental, and let's face it, are a bit dull! How can we move beyond SMART to set inspirational, stimulating goals which are courageous and engage the hero within each of us?
We've had a fantastic summer of sport with millions captivated by the Olympics and Paralympics. Among the many stories of success I'd like to mention my friend Alan Campbell, single sculler in the GB team. Ten years ago Alan was a novice rower, uncoordinated and lacking technical skills. But somehow he was winning club races. Bill Barry, rowing coach and himself an Olympic silver medalist, was asked to talk to this young rower. When asked what he wanted to achieve, Alan said he wanted to win an Olympic medal. This was a completely outrageous statement with no supporting evidence, and no track record to back it up. This was truly audacious. However, this turned out to be a courageous goal; the dream came true, as on Friday 3 August 2012 Alan won a bronze medal in the single sculls at the London Olympics.
During the summer of sport we have seen many dreams come true. Records broken, new personal bests set and audacious sporting goals achieved. But how often does this happen in business? How often do we dream big and achieve great things? Maybe this is not as often as in sport. In organisational life we seem to be risk averse; the fear of failure limits progress. In sport, failure is inevitable and considered part of the process to learn and become better. However in business, failure has a huge negative stigma, there is a tendency to seek blame when problems occur. It is as if one setback means a person is branded a failure forever. In sport one defeat leads to the next win. But this negativity in organisational life undermines individual confidence and so the risk is managed by lowering the exposure, setting a safe target. An unintentional restrictive limit has been set which discourages boldness.
Take the example 'As a team we will increase our sales by 10% in the next quarter'. This is a nice SMART goal. But what would it feel like if it was written like this: 'As a team in the next quarter we will close the largest deal we have ever made.' This sounds much more exciting. This is a courageous goal.
"During the summer of sport we have seen many dreams come true. But how often does this happen in business? How often do we dream big and achieve great things?"
A courageous goal has certain characteristics. You can tell a courageous goal has been aired when someone says 'no way, we could never do that!'. A courageous goal leads to an emotional reaction; it installs excitement, fear, inspiration, imagination, wonder and creates a sense of adventure.
So how do we move beyond traditional risk limiting goal setting processes, and embrace this adventure, allowing people to be free, bold, and courageous?
In our book 'Challenging Coaching' we describe a simple and powerful three step process of dream, share, and start.
  • Step 1 - Dream. The challenge is to forget the constraints of the present moment and focus on future possibilities, the ideal, and the dream. To help this process, a coach, facilitator, or business leader could ask the following questions:
"What would be your equivalent to winning an Olympic gold medal?"
"If you believed anything was possible, what would you want to achieve?"
"How far into the future would we need to set this goal in order for you to let go of worrying how it might be achieved?"
  • Step 2 - Share. Sharing the courageous goal with other people turns it from a mere fantasy into something that is becoming real. For example 'If you were feeling at your most courageous, who would you share this goal with?' A goal shared publicly brings with it a degree of accountability. It commits the person to their chosen path. Other people can support the hero on their journey, and can also hold them accountable.
  • Step 3 - Start. We don't need to know how this courageous goal will be reality, but we do need to take the first step. As the Chinese philosopher said "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". This first step is the commitment to action - until this point there is hesitation and the possibility to draw back. There is no order of magnitude in the first step - it can be very small. The first step builds confidence to take the next step, and then the next. A coach, facilitator, or business leader could ask "What is the smallest tangible step you could take towards this goal in the next week?" "What is the next step that would be really exciting?"
In this way leaders, facilitators and coaches can create the conditions for dreams to be turned into reality. Courage and boldness replace risk avoidance. Courageous goals motivate and inspire, moving beyond the limits of SMART.
To draw this article to a close, consider the goals you have set yourself or with others; were they courageous goals? Could you be more bold? Also read the poem below by Guillaume Apollinaire and consider what role you play in the process:
"Come to the edge."
"We can't. We're afraid."
"Come to the edge."
"We can't. We will fall."
"Come to the edge."
And they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.
To be sent the first chapter of the book including the foreword by Sir John Whitmore please visit Ian and John's book 'Challenging Coaching- Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS' published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing is available on Amazon


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