How leaders can make daunting goals realistic, exciting, and achievable


Published on: December 2019

Written by: Scott Weighart

My son is a distance runner at Allegheny College. While his Cross Country and Track meets take place over a handful of months in the Fall and Spring semesters, the training happens almost year round. Last summer, Tim’s coach had him slated to run 40 or 50 miles per week at first before working up to a 70-mile week shortly before returning to campus after summer vacation.

As you might imagine, running these distances—typically at a pace of roughly 7:00 per mile—is challenging to do on a week in, week out basis. This is especially true when you’re putting in most of these miles by yourself rather than running with teammates as the athletes do during the school year. It can be hard to stay motivated.

All of that said, I was wowed when Tim and his teammates received the following email from his coach in late July:

“On this date in history, July 25th, 2012, Allegheny junior Bobby Over completed an 11-mile run from his parents’ house. He averaged a 6:55 pace and wore his blue pair of Brooks Ghosts. Nothing notable happened on the run. It was exactly like the 11 miler he did the day before and very similar to the 12 miler he did the next day.

“Four months later Bobby finished in 2nd place at the NCAA National Championships.

“Our training, like our sport, is not flashy. The things that make us better happen slowly, but consistently, over time. Bobby did not finish as the NCAA Runner-Up because of any one workout. You are not going to achieve your goals due to any single day. You are going to achieve your goals by working hard on a consistent everyday basis. Rain or shine; heat or snow; tired or fresh: Get out for your runs and put in the work.”

While I’m sure that this email was not the only factor, Tim recently beat his personal best by over 75 seconds in an 8K Cross Country race, finishing 35th in a field of 325 collegiate runners.

What I learned from this experience is how much leaders can do to make “even daunting goals and aspirations realistic, exciting, and achievable.” That happens to be one of the items in the category of Vision in the Executive Presence Index, the ExPITM.

When we look at all of the ExPITM assessment data, Vision is the lowest-rated facet of the 15 in the model. This item about “daunting goals” ranks near the bottom relative to the mean scores of all 90 assessment items. Obviously, this behavior is not one that frequently comes across loud and clear in the eyes of most leaders’ managers, peers, and direct reports.

But this coach’s simple email captures the essence of how you can hit the nail on the head with this critical leadership quality.

  • Tell a relatable story –Stories move heads to think, hearts to care, and hands to act. This is especially true when you’re sharing a story about someone who will resonate with your audience.
  • Keep it simple – A short story is powerful because it’s memorable.
  • Be real about challenges – Being transparent about what is difficult and less glamorous about the work needed gives you credibility.
  • Drive home the lesson of your story – Your audience needs a call to action from your story. What do you want them to take away from the story?  What are you asking them to do as a result?

Make a habit of sharing stories on a regular, scheduled basis. If your team is trying to hit a daunting goal, consider doing so each week in person or in an email. It could be a story like this one about a time when someone saw their hard work pay off in the past. It might be a tale about an incremental win by someone who is taking small but significant steps toward making a transformational change a reality.

Whatever your approach, devoting a steady stream of leadership communication to stories that make even daunting goals seem achievable can make all the difference in turning a distant objective into the possible dream.

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