Responsible Leadership: Beware of Goals

(This is the 3rd in a series of blogs about John Race, mountain guide and co-owner of Northwest Mountain School, who recently led two of my nephews and me up Mt. Baker in Washington State.)
It’s easy to set goals. And it’s just as easy to set bad goals. In business, pursuing rapid growth without sufficient money or infrastructure can be fatal. When striving to climb a mountain, not having the right knowledge, equipment or capabilities can also be fatal.
The goal isn’t to set goals. It’s to set good goals.
Set Good Goals
Despite John’s efforts to pre-qualify his clients, in some cases they simply aren’t capable of reaching the summit. As a responsible leader John knows that their goal has to be subordinate to his goal: safety. And not just their physical safety, but psychological safety. John doesn’t want his clients so demoralized or beaten down that they hate their experience. They don’t have to love it – many clients are prepared for the hardships of mountain climbing – but there’s nothing to be gained from them hating it. When his clients just aren’t up to it, John’s job becomes one of helping them reorient their goals to what is achievable and challenging for them.
Conditions can Change; Goals can Change
In a dynamic environment, whether in the mountains or in business, favorable conditions can quickly turn unfavorable, and vice versa. As a result, the consequences of pursing a goal can change dramatically. John constantly monitors the weather and conditions, reassesses the potential consequences, and, when necessary, leads his clients through a decision-making process to recalibrate their goals.
On Achievement and Self-Esteem
While protecting his clients against unrealistic goals, John also isn’t a fan of trivializing goals, or the everyone-gets-a-ribbon approach to building self-esteem. In his world, self-esteem is a by-product of good goals, targeted effort, and achievement. It’s experiencing the relationship between the three that builds confidence and ultimately self-esteem.
Yes, it’s easy to set goals. But remember, the goal isn’t simply to set goals.
Next week: Responsible Leadership: It’s Easy to Lead if …
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