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Develop Yourself With Micro Goals
Slay Your Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals with Micro Ones

Want to know THE number one secret to developing as a leader? Micro goals. Master micro goals and you’ve mastered real and sustainable behavior change.

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution, only to make the same resolution the next year (anyone… Bueller?)? We’ve all experienced the joy of setting empowering goals and the agony of defeat when we miss the mark.

First, give yourself a break. Congratulate yourself on the attempt and your positive intent.

Second, with apologies to Jim Collins and his Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGS) stop setting development goals that are too big and too audacious. BHAGS are fantastic for inspiring and rallying everyone around a common mission. They clarify vision and direction. But they’re not so great for achieving small, sustainable behavior change.

The Navy SEALs are most notable for perfecting the practice of micro goals in order to survive Hell Week. describes Hell Week as five and a half days of cold, wet, brutally difficult training with one hour of sleep per night. Hell Week tests both physical and mental endurance and the ability to perform work under intense mental stress and sleep deprivation.

In order to survive, SEAL recruits are taught to “chunk” the BHAG (make it through Hell Week) into tiny, segmented, incremental steps (micro goals). They focus on making it through breakfast. Making it to the beach. Getting through push-ups in the surf. Step, by small step. Former Navy SEAL and emotional resilience expert, Commander Mark Devine, describes micro goals as, “When we set our sights on micro goals, we achieve micro wins; which quickly stack up and develop a sense of momentum.”

Slay Your BHAGS With Micro-Goals
You may not face the extreme mental and physical demands of a Navy SEAL, but if you’re a leader you face pressing challenges every day that makes it difficult to prioritize your development. Lack of time, staff issues, fighting organizational fires, personal demands, and family emergencies crop up. These are real and legitimate issues with “lack of time” typically being the number one “development de-railer” I hear most often. No matter how motivated you are it’s natural to experience these roadblocks on the way to achieving your leadership aspirations.

Leadership Development Is Not An “All Or Nothing” Proposition
Let’s say you’re a manager with a large team and your Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal is to develop every one of your direct reports by delegating each a stretch project. You set a goal to meet with every team member over the next two weeks and discuss their assignment. Then, before you knew it, two weeks passed and you never had the time to hold the meetings. Critical work emergencies surfaced that demanded attention. So you pushed out the goal to the next week and then the next and before you knew it your good intentions had paved a road to…well…you know the rest of the proverb.

A more successful approach is to set a micro goal to speak with one direct-report by the end of the week. And if that seems too ambitious with everything on your plate, then reset the micro goal to send a meeting request before the end of the day to speak with one direct report at a future date. Sending a meeting request is an immediate, realistic task that’s within your control. Before you know it, one micro win leads to another, building momentum toward the ultimate BHAG.

Get Real About Your Why
Before setting a micro goal, it’s helpful to look at the “why” behind what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. What’s the true outcome you hope for when you reach your BHAG? In the example above, improving your delegation skills could be a reasonable BHAG, but perhaps your ultimate goal is team engagement and employee retention. Getting real about your “why” can help you clarify what’s truly most important and stay focused each step of the way when competing priorities pop up.

How To Set A Micro Goal

1. Set your BHAG. Crystalize the “why”. Ask yourself, if I accomplish this goal (let’s say your goal is to improve your listening skills with someone whom you experience a great deal of conflict)…what will be the outcome? The “why” in this scenario is a better working relationship which will lead to better results and less stress. “Why” clarifies the importance of the goal and motivates you to accomplish the first, small step.

2. Break down the BHAG into easily accomplished micro tasks. Since lack of time is often a barrier to leadership development — think of each micro goal as a task you can accomplish in a short burst of time. Five or ten minutes. One or two days. Micro goals are about taking steps NOW. Now breaks the inertia and propels progress. Now puts the accountability for achieving a micro task squarely with you and in your control. A micro task might be something you accomplish within the next few minutes, hours, or days. Don’t go longer than a week out.

Let’s say there’s a management book you’ve been wanting to read. Don’t worry about reading the whole book. Can you pick it up and read it for 10 minutes during lunch? Sure you can. Could you get even smaller with your micro goal and take the book off your shelf right now and put it on the corner of your desk in easy reach? Yes, you can!

Perhaps you’ve been wanting to get out of your office and connect with your co-workers by going to lunch. You never seem to find the time to go to lunch. Instead, set an alarm each day to get up from your desk and walk around the office for five minutes and chat with at least one person. In this scenario, the “why” is about connection, not lunch.

3. Reality check. Answer this question, “How likely is it that I can achieve this goal right now? If it’s not likely, what would be a more realistic, achievable, first step I can take towards my ‘Why’?”

4. Celebrate your micro wins! The magic of micro goals is steady progress toward your ultimate destination. Celebrate your accomplishments as you ride the momentum of achieving each tiny task. And what if you miss your target? No big deal! Reset with a smaller, more realistic micro goal and start again.

Micro goals may be small, but they’re mighty with power, clarity, and progress. So the next time you set a lofty and ambitious leadership development goal, recall the words of the wise and enlightened Steve Martin and “Let’s Get Small”.

Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, by James C. Collins