“If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time,” goes the familiar saying from Zig Ziglar.
It’s true at work, and it’s true in our personal lives. When we don’t have clear goals, we wallow in aimless tasks and reach blindly for the future.
At Khorus, we have the privilege of working with our customers to bring great goal setting—and the renewed clarity, focus, and purpose that comes with it—to entire companies. Here are some of our favorite quotes on the topic of goal power, from thinkers old and new.
On why to have goals in the first place
1. Seth Godin
“The thing about goals is that living without them is a lot more fun, in the short run. It seems to me, though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact . . . those people have goals.” —Seth’s Blog
This is truth, and it kind of hurts. Setting a goal is an acknowledgment that you’re not where you want to be, that there’s work to be done. But as Godin points out, it’s worth it in the end.
2. Peter Drucker
“The young knowledge worker whose job is too small to challenge and test his abilities either leaves or declines rapidly into premature middle age, soured, cynical, unproductive.” —The Effective Executive
Set some challenging goals! You don’t want to age prematurely, do you?
“Nothing is more unworthy of a wise man, or ought to trouble him more, than to have allowed more time for trifling, and useless things, than they deserve.”
Yes. When you have a well-defined goal, you’re empowered to push aside the trifling and the useless.
On setting the right goals
4. Peter Drucker (again)
“Management by objective works—if you know the objective. Ninety percent of the time you don’t.”
Any goal is usually better than no goal, but to deliver performance, the CEO has to point the company toward the right objective. It’s not always obvious.
5. Jim Collins
“Good-to-great companies set their goals and strategies based on understanding; comparison companies set their goals and strategies based on bravado.” —Good to Great
Collins, too, highlights the need for well-thought-out objectives. High-performing companies don’t focus on just any goal they find impressive; they set goals only after asking the right questions and understanding where they need to go.
6. Michael Raynor and Derek Pankratz
“A company’s goals should be in line with the aggressiveness of its strategy, its appetite for risk, and its ability to manage that risk.” —HBR.org
This quote comes from a fascinating piece in which Raynor and Pankratz share data showing how easy it is for leaders to inadvertently set goals they have an extremely low chance of meeting. This final takeaway of the article drives home the importance of setting goals that aren’t just cool-sounding but actually align with strategy.
7. Chris McChesney and Sean Covey
“Discipline 1 is about applying more energy against fewer goals because, when it comes to setting goals, the law of diminishing returns is as real as the law of gravity.” —The 4 Disciplines of Execution
We love this book. McChesney and Covey’s Discipline 1 is “Focus on the Wildly Important”—exactly what goals help you do. More is never more when we’re talking goals.
On goal attainment:
8. William Shakespeare
“To climb steep hills requires a slow pace at first.”
We hear about BHAGs and stretch goals all the time, but this vintage truth holds fast. Break those big goals into achievable pieces.
9. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
“Attainable goals like that are the best ones to have. Ones you can actually accomplish and build on. You get to say, ‘We nailed it. Done!’ Then you get going on the next one. That’s a lot more satisfying than some pie-in-the-sky fantasy goal you never meet.” —Rework
10. Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
“The surest way of achieving your goal is through the single-minded pursuit of simple actions.” —Guidance for Large Unit Commanders
Every business leader’s favorite Prussian general, von Moltke knew that we can’t pursue our aims haphazardly. We have to have that single-minded focus.
11. Patrick Lencioni
“No matter how good a leadership team feels about itself, and how noble its mission might be, if the organization it leads rarely achieves its goals, then, by definition, its simply not a good team.” —The Advantage
On shared goals:
12. Dwight D. Eisenhower
“It is far more important to be able to hit the target than it is to haggle over who makes a weapon or who pulls a trigger.”
During a 1958 address that called for “unity of direction” in US military defense efforts, President Eisenhower makes a key point: when a meaningful goal is shared, achievement of the goal takes precedence over politics and credit-mongering.
13. Patrick Lencioni (again)
“A functional team must make the collective results of the group more important to each individual than individual members’ goals.” —The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Lencioni is another favorite at the Khorus office. We cheer on this point: the best teams are made up of people who understand how their goals support the wider aims of the group. Winning teams don’t consist of people who merely keep themselves busy with self-contained lists of goals.
14. Stephen Bungay
“The very business of getting an organization made up of individuals, no matter how disciplined, to pursue a collective goal produces friction just as surely as applying the brakes of a car.” —The Art of Action
Teams need to pull together toward shared goals, but Bungay has a warning: this process always produces conflicts and confusion. That’s where effective leaders come into play.
15. Jim Collins (again)
“Recruit entrepreneurial leaders and give them freedom to determine the best path to achieving their objectives. On the other hand, individuals must commit fully to the system you use and be held rigorously accountable for their objectives. You give them freedom, but freedom within a framework.” —Good to Great
When employees are chasing a goal, they need autonomy in how they pursue it, even as you hold them accountable for their work. It’s a fine balance.
On goals and future-focus:
16. Walt Disney
“Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.”
17. Ben Horowitz
“It’s quite possible for an executive to hit her goal for the quarter by ignoring the future.” —Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things
Disney and Horowitz hit a key point for us at Khorus. Achieving goals isn’t just about meeting a predetermined target; we have to constantly consider quality trade-offs, shifting conditions, and changing predictions in order to keep our goal-directed work relevant.
Ready to see our enterprise platform for getting everyone in your company on the same page? Schedule your demo today!