Executive Coaching & Coach Training for Leaders

Goals vs Intention

I’ve written this inspired by a thought provoking article I read recently and a lightbulb moment in the surf that came with it.

The article

A couple of weeks back I was lucky enough to spend a day training with Dr David Drake. Some pre-reading for the training was the Harvard Business School paper Goals Gone Wild - about the dangers of over-prescribing goals in organisations. 

Initially I was sceptical but the paper makes a lot of sense - sales teams behaving unethically to hit targets, quality and safety measures being overlooked in order to meet deadlines, the emotional toll associated with failure to achieve performance goals and some really clear examples of where goals just haven’t worked.

Since reading the article, I’ve reflected lots about goal setting. I’ve thought a lot about the impact of goal setting on my work - about how it affects the people and organisations that I work with. 

I’ve been exploring and experimenting with my clients to see what works in the moment - are we best suited to having an intention for a coaching session, or would they like to focus on a clearly defined goal? Are goals or intentions better suited to their teams and what they’re wanting to achieve within their business culture?

I’ve always been a goal setter but now I had an opportunity to change my thinking and focus on intention instead. 

My lightbulb moment

I learn heaps about myself when I’m surfing. I went out for a surf on Saturday morning with a mate. We had limited time - our families were heading to a festival together soon after - so we were on a mission. I said to Dave on the way to the beach “Ten waves each and then back to the car”.

In my mind, my goal was ten waves. 

Here’s what happened: I paddled for every wave that came near me, I was taking off on waves that I couldn’t make, I was watching the clock and my mind was so fixated on getting ten waves that I was surfing really badly. I wasn’t even enjoying myself. 

I thought I’d better change things up. I had a light bulb moment. I tried to simultaneously let go of the goal while setting myself a new intention for the second half of the surf. That part was easy - beyond all, I just wanted to enjoy myself. 

Once I had the intention to enjoy myself, everything around me and in me changed. 

I was more in the moment, I was choosing better waves, surfing better and having a great time. And I stopped counting waves but easily took care of the initial ten wave target - without having to focus on it. I achieved the initial goal but in a different way and without the pressure that I'd first put on myself. What a learning opportunity.

It’s really clear to me that there is a place for goals and there is a place for intention. It depends on the person, the organisation, the circumstance and the desired outcome. What’s your experience been?

PS. I just read this out loud to my four month old son, who had an audible reaction in his pants. I hope it doesn’t have the same effect on you.

Sam PattersonComment