April 25, 2009

2 Ways to Approach Setting Goals

There's that old joke. What do you call the guy that graduated last in medical school? Doctor.

The sales trainer I was listening to made a compelling argument. He challenged his audience to always aim to be the best and to compete against the larger field. "Don't settle for being number one in your market. Aim to be number one in the country. It's like winning first place in your local marathon versus winning first place in the New York marathon."

That's where I started to question his assertion. I've run three marathons, and my goal was never to finish first. It was simply to finish. Now before you say that I missed his point, I know he wasn't saying it's not good enough to finish a marathon, you should go for first place. What he was saying was keep pushing yourself, and one way to do that is to get out of your smaller pond and compete in a larger one.

But his metaphor got me thinking. There's a difference between "be number one" goals and "complete it" goals. So I did a quick audit of my current goals and discovered that most of mine are "complete them" goals. The only "be number one" goals I could think of were to win a recent reading contest and beat my son's high score on Flight Control (hardly a worthy goal, but it does consume a great deal of my time).

What type of goals do you set? Leave your comments about how you determine whether to be number one or simply complete the goal.


  1. I have more "complete it" goals than be No. 1 goals. Even in business, I want to complete a sale or complete a sign up; even complete a conversation.

    You make a good call on this. What happens when those people who put being No. 1 in front of them as a goal and then don't make it? What do they go through (emotionally) then or strive for then?

    No, I'd rather complete something, feel that rush of success and move on to the next goal. I can look back on those accomplishments better than I could look on the title of No. 1

  2. Maybe your sales trainer should try winning the local marathon?

    My goals are all "complete them," even the ones where winning is part of the goal. For example, I know if I complete my training, I should win my AG. But my goal is completing the training and enjoying the journey rather than focusing on the result.

    If the entire organization attending the training session subscribed to an attitude of "If you're not first, you're last," you'll have one successful person and a lot of people that feel like failures. That's not good for morale or productivity.

    Better to set goals against yourself and challenge your previous best. You'll grow consistently and the focus becomes making yourself better rather than focusing on the outcome.

  3. Great points. I guess that's why more of mine are "complete it" oriented. Sam, LOL at your question. Thanks for sharing your perspectives!