As an executive coach, I often hear well-intended executives like Bob say things like, “I need to be a better listener.  I need to be more patient with people.” When asked why, Bob says he knows it is the right thing to do, or he’s received feedback about improving his listening.  When pressed on how to do this, Bob says, “I only need to be more mindful.  I need to tell myself to listen more.” Often several months later, nothing has changed; people still describe Bob as a hothead or a know-it-all who doesn’t take time for people.

Why?  Because this goal isn’t powerful to Bob.  It doesn’t compel him to change from the current state.  It also isn’t “sticky” – it doesn’t have enough upside to help him gut it out when things get dicey.  Sound familiar, like a New Year’s Resolution you have made, abandoned by mid-January?

Here’s a story of a powerful and sticky goal.  In 1967, 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer became the first female to finish the Boston Marathon officially.  She overcame significant obstacles to finish that race, including being attacked by a race official at Mile 2.  Do you believe Kathrine got to the Boston Marathon by merely “being mindful” of becoming a better runner?  Or because she felt she “should?” Of course not.  She began running at age 12.  She trained for years, running through bad weather, sickness, and injury.  She had a coach and family who pushed and supported her.  She wanted to do this race – badly. As a result, she was prepared for adversity, digging deep inside herself when facing incredible opposition.  Her commitment to reaching her goal was so sticky that it could overcome physical harm.

Endurance Leadership starts with setting a powerful goal.  A great goal is not easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work.  As my Ironman friends would say, “If signing up for it doesn’t make you want to throw up, it’s too easy.” Listed below are some examples, with the leadership qualities they target:

  • By the end of the year, I want to have two people in my group ready to be promoted and to have a successor identified. (Developing Talent)
  • Within the next six months, I want to improve my give-and-take in conversations by 50% (Listening)
  • In the following year, I want to be a critical contributor in our Executive Strategic Planning discussions (Moving from Tactical to Strategic)

Second, make the goalsticky.” What will compel you to stay true toward this goal when you faced the equivalent of running outside in 9-degree temperatures (e.g., you lose your best team member, your peer group has a toxic member, pressure on your deliverables jump through the roof)?  Perhaps it’s a deep sense of satisfaction you will get from knowing you were a team member’s best boss. Maybe it is the pride of knowing your strategic contributions are critical to organizational success. Perhaps it is a promotion.  Whatever it is, make sure it is something that matters deeply to you.

Locke and Latham (2002) showed that if you are not challenging yourself, you are not getting better.  Endurance athletes perpetually have a powerful and sticky race on their calendar.  Will you pick a goal that will stick?