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A Proven Way of Setting and Achieving Ambitious Goals

High achievers don’t bother with all this SMART nonsense. I’m sure when you’re first starting out and you need a model to latch onto, SMART is better than nothing, but in reality, it’s far too narrow to be effective. If you are sat thinking, how should I set and achieve goals for myself and my business next year, SMART is not going to help.

My team and I have helped 100’s of business owners and senior leaders set and achieve ambitious goals way beyond what they thought could be possible. Personal and business goals, and always something stretching, that challenges the people we work with. The kind of challenging that gets your heart racing and you saying out loud, “WOW!”.

We have a great reputation and a lot of amazing case studies to back up this bold claim, so feel free to poke around our testimonials at your leisure and have a listen to some of those stories.

For the greatest successes we have seen over the years, we have a good grasp on how high achievers set and deliver ambitious goals, and here are some of the key ingredients…

  1. Get out of the day to day. They take themselves away from the coal face (when we work with our customers, this is usually at least for a day or two days) and work with other like-minded people. This can be a mixed group of peers who also lead businesses, or their own leadership teams, but they commit the time and energy to do it properly.
  2. Get into big picture mode. They spend the first phase of the process becoming aware of their surroundings. Where am I and where are we now? There are lot of tools and techniques for this, but ultimately, they are getting themselves into helicopter view and out of the weeds. Personally, I feel this works best when professionally facilitated, and you and your group are guided and challenged through the process.
  3. State what you “really” want. This may seem obvious, but not everyone does say out loud what they really want. Sometimes people don’t know, which is fair enough, but other times, people just don’t want to be that vulnerable. They hold back because of fear. Fear of the consequence of sharing. What would other people think or say. High achievers are open and honest and set out a clear vision of the future. They state what they really want. They often don’t know if or how they could get there, but they know what they want.

Read How to Set the Right Goal for You for 2023 if you are in need of some inspiration with choosing the right goal to focus on.

  1. Create the pull. After stating what you really want you should go through a process of learning why you want to focus on a particular goal. What is the meaning of this goal to you? I’m sure there are many goals to choose from, so why this one? This is the leverage to keep you motivated and pulled towards achieving the goal. It also provides meaning and purpose as to why we are focusing on this particular goal.
  2. Have a plan. Goals and feeling motivated about achieving them is brilliant. What a feeling. Excited to get out of bed in a morning to make steps towards your goal. To give yourself the best chance of success, have a plan. A set of concrete actions and timeframes to move you towards goal achievement. The best plans operate on a three months’ timeline. They keep you focused and doing things to move you forward. And at the end of the three months, plan again. What are the next steps to help us move towards our goal?
  3. Don’t do it alone. Nobody achieves great things without the help and support of others. You need a certain independence and ability to hold yourself accountable, but it’s always a team effort. There is a saying that you become most like the 5 people you spend the most time with, so choose wisely. Maybe join a peer group or get yourself a mentor or coach, but don’t do it alone.
  4. Share your goal with everyone. To help build the accountability, share your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), with the people who matter to you. Your inner circle. Consider who this goal may affect and communicate with them. These are the people who will check in too and see how you are doing. Sharing adds depth to the accountability. You are responsible for holding yourself accountable to achieving your goals, but it helps to be reminded and nudged on occasion to keep you focused.
  5. Move towards a positive. It’s hard to achieve a negatively framed goal, such as, quit smoking or lose weight, because your mind is focused on what you don’t want. People who achieve goal success consistently will always move towards a positive, rather than away from a negative. What are you becoming, rather than, what are you running away from works better, because you are lighting up the positive chemicals in your brain with a positively framed goal.
  6. Manage the risks. We would call this a pre-mortem. Rather than wait until things fail and then have to deal with the consequences, most people already know what could possibly go wrong. So rather than wait for things to go wrong, put steps in place to remove or reduce the risks. And if there is a showstopper risk, don’t start the process towards achieving the goal, deal with the showstopper first.
  7. Manage your personal development needs. The greatest risk to achieving your goals will be you. Getting in your own way and letting other people pull you off track will be highly likely. Knowing yourself and managing your own emotions and behaviours will be the hardest part. People who manage this well invest in themselves, continuously learn from others, and apply the learning with discipline. There is a saying that, fools learn from their mistakes, but wise people learn from the mistakes of others. Be mindful of your own learning needs and put the effort into your own continuous personal development.
  8. Let go of the outcome. When you have your goal laid out and a plan in place to achieve it, you have to let go of the outcome and enjoy the journey. Trust the process and don’t get too attached to the goal. High achievers have confidence in themselves, their own resourcefulness and they are patient. You will get there. Enjoy the moment.
  9. Commit fully but don’t be too obsessive. You have to go all in. If you want to achieve your goals, you will probably need to make decisions and sacrifices that will make you feel uncomfortable, but you can’t let this hold you back. You have to commit fully. There is one caveat to this. Don’t let it make you ill. Don’t let your obsessiveness with achievement make you mentally and physically ill. People who manage themselves well recognise the early warning signs and ask for help or make the changes that they need to.
  10. Celebrate success constantly. Your goal may be a year away from now, or even five years away. Don’t wait until then to celebrate. Take every opportunity to celebrate yourself and to involve your team. These are the moments that make it worthwhile. That make it fulfilling for you and the people around you. Celebrations bring smiles to people’s faces. Surely that’s a good thing.
  11. Don’t be too proud to readjust or slow down. Sometimes we need to readjust our plans, which is fine, and intelligent, if it is needed to support us in achieving our goals. Don’t let your own ego get the better of you and stop you from admitting that you need to change the plan or slow things down to deliver the plan more effectively. People who consistently achieve their goals are never too proud to ask for help.
  12. The sunk cost fallacy. Sometimes we know in our heart of hearts that we are not going to achieve the goal, but we have put so much time, effort and money into achieving it, we just can’t quit now. In extreme cases, we just need to say enough is enough and walk away from the goal. If you are not enjoying it, or you have chosen the wrong goal for you, sometimes the best option is to walk away. Don’t get me wrong, there will be times that are less enjoyable. As Sylvester Stallone said, life is never all sunshine and rainbows. But if you are not enjoying it at all, change it.


Hopefully, there are a few nuggets above that will help you to improve your goal setting and in a much better place to achieve a successful outcome. If you would like some help setting and achieving your ambitious goals, please reach out and ask for help.


This article was written by the Founder & Managing Director of the Manufacturers’ Alliance, Gary Sheader. Gary is keen to really push the boundaries of modern leadership and loves to develop innovative services to help business owners and their teams become the best they can be.