Goal-setting is dead. Here’s what to do instead.

Blog | April 5, 2022

Okay, so goal-setting isn’t actually dead. I’m a coach. I live and breathe goal setting. 


Being truly successful in meeting our goals starts with us understanding our aspirations. The subtle distinction between aspirations and outcomes exists everywhere, in life and business—and it’s an important one.

Outcomes are the goal. Aspirations are how you’ll feel on the other side—and that’s the real goal.

To get where you want to go, you must transform how you think about goals, what they are, and what they mean to you. Goals are usually thought of as super-specific outcomes. But here’s the problem with that:

Focusing on outcomes binds you to just one way of thinking.

It shuts off your ability to be agile in the face of roadblocks and to collaborate for creative solutions.

In any situation, you can always find a way to move toward your aspirations.

But, no matter how much you work, you can never create 100% certainty that your aspirations will be realized in one specific “perfect” way called your goal.

This is something many leaders have difficulty accepting.

They may feel they’re engaging in business as usual, or even “doing their best,” but they’re going in the wrong direction because they’ve lost sight of the big picture. It can happen to anyone, at any stage of leadership.

A merger put Mitch, a CTO to a high growth tech company, smack in the middle of an organization many times bigger than the one he’d led. He no longer had the final say on the company roadmap, and his name was rarely the first one credited for results. He felt like his hands were tied.

His question to me: “How do we accomplish our goals now that we’ve been acquired?” (And a major part of the “we” he was talking about was “me.”)

Mitch’s frustration was legit; he couldn’t wield the same type of influence as he had when he was at the topmost ranks in the company. So we took a step back.

”What do you want long-term?” I asked. In other words, I wanted him to think in terms of aspiration.

Mitch aspired to be CEO of a much larger enterprise.

“What would happen,” I asked, “if you used the role you’re in now to get paid to develop the skills you’ll need?”

In the past, Mitch had been a bullish leader, aggressive in all company goals, steamrolling anyone or anything that got in his way. It was part of what made his company wildly successful and why they got acquired. 

Now, he had to advocate for his ideas—sometimes in subtle, less visible ways. But his influence would grow, nonetheless.

When he saw the opportunity that focusing on his aspiration (versus on an outcome) gave him, he realized he had more power in his current role than he was giving himself credit for.

“I can’t push my agenda like I used to…” he mused aloud, “so I have to be more creative.”

Mitch found a new willingness to lead through others. He made more time to listen to others’ ideas and provided his own insights, without pushing.

Colleagues who’d known him for years spotted the difference. When they’d hear Mitch’s ideas from someone else, eyebrows would shoot up. They’d come to him and ask, “What changed?” or even “Are you feeling okay?” They wondered how he seemed so relaxed.

People throughout the company started quoting his ideas, and coming to him for advice. They talked about him admiringly, even when he wasn’t in the room—a stark contrast to the eyerolls and avoidance his former behavior used to inspire.

Mitch’s aspirations remained what they always were, but his focus had changed. And the impact was unmistakable.

He knows his ideas are moving the company in a productive direction. And he is building the skills that are going to win him the role of CEO at a much larger organization.

To get where you want to go, you have to be crystal clear on your aspiration—and that’s not the result or outcome of the operation. The difference between aspirations and outcomes is the difference between influence and control.

Control is a belief that if you do everything right, you’ll create a 100% certain path to desired outcomes. To exert control, everything—your team, vendors, and the weather—must behave exactly one way that you foresee in advance.

In his old role, Mitch was used to control. He would shut down others in the name of the “right way” to do things. He believed in only one way to reach the target, his way. Anything less was wrong, and it could end in disaster.

When we fix on the goal above all else, it makes teams feel unimportant and replaceable. It saps engagement and stifles creative thinking. It discourages and even punishes risk-taking. All of this was going on with Mitch.

Influence, on the other hand, is about probabilities and possibilities.

Every initiative a business pursues raises the probability of making or saving money—of having a greater impact. Mitch saw he could do that by accepting the possibilities in his new role without having to predict or force outcomes.

When you allow your team to understand what you’re aspiring to, then empower them to bring it to fruition, you work LESS and accomplish MORE.

If it feels like you’re pushing harder than ever, and you wonder why all your effort just isn’t working, let’s talk. Schedule your complimentary discovery call with one of our coaches, here.

Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant