Leaders hold a position of power or authority; but those who lead inspire us”- Simon Sinek.

According to Impraise, a platform dedicated to assisting organisations reimagine human resource processes, only 7% of individuals have a comprehensive understanding of how their role contribute towards achieving stated organisational goals. A staggering 44% of employees are unable to name their organisation’s goals which amplifies the gap between expectations and goal attainment.

One of a leader’s core competencies is being able to ‘drive results’. You might be thinking, ‘I already know this’. Let’s take it back to the basics. Leaders are the drivers, the inspirers and the enablers. They are able to take initiative, set realistic goals, and fathom the importance of creating a sense of positive panic within their team. Leaders not only understand the essence of fostering a team that is goal driven, but a leader understands how to ignite and elicit the required behaviour from his fellow team members to achieve the collaborative goals established within the team.

Leaders have the responsibility to guide positive goal achievement within their team, while taking into consideration the necessary skills their team members need to possess in order to elicit the desired results.

How do leaders drive goal setting in elite teams?

Leaders should possess the ability to motivate their team. Motivating others can be a momentous and difficult task. For a leader to motivate their team they need to embody and display the behaviours they wish to produce in their team members. In that sense, a leader is like a mirror and their purpose is to reflect and inspire their team mates to adopt the ‘image’ they exhibit.

The qualities that a leader should demonstrate include being able to create a clear-cut vision, understand the organisation’s culture, focus on the ability to develop the performance of their team members, and to boost innovation within the team.

Have you heard of the SMART goal setting method?

George Doran proposed the idea of SMART goals in 1981, which has taken the world by storm. It has made the rounds in many boardrooms and left the lips of many managers.

Leaders often use SMART goals as a tool to prompt and encourage their team to focus and achieve the goals developed by the leader and their team members.

Why are SMART goals so popular?

Creating smart goals allows leaders to clearly understand and define goals that need to be achieved. Methodologically breaking down the different components of SMART goals we come to understand that goals need to be:

Specific: leaders need to provide clear and defined goals for their team.

Measurable: goals need to be quantifiable. If you have set a goal to get more feedback from team members, specify how many times you would like to receive feedback.

Achievable: we all have these BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) but how attainable are they? As a leader you need to ensure the goals you have set are realistic, possible and attainable.

Relevant: leaders need to drive goals that link to the values of the team, leader and organisation at large. Goals that seem irrelevant to the team will only result in discouragement and lack of drive to achieve that goal.

Time-bound: leaders need to set goals that have a deadline. Deadlines drive goals forward and promotes team members into action.

SMART has been tried, tested and provides desired results. So, it may come as a shock when I tell you that maybe SMART goals aren’t always the best goal setting tool to use.

Spinning SMART on its head

SMART goals are most effective when companies wish to boost a number. When individuals wish to achieve that grandiose goal, their lifetime goal, or a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), the SMART method proves to be null and void.

The main issue with trying to reach those big audacious goals using the guidance of the SMART method, is that it doesn’t allow you to form an emotional connection to the goal you are trying to achieve. This lack of emotional connection to the goal often leads to demotivation and decreases the likelihood of achievement.

SMART goals are outcome driven. It focuses on the results which allows for further disappointment when you fail to achieve your goals. Encountering a minor setback while using the SMART method, you are most likely to fail as the goal is outcome focused. Alongside this, SMART goals are less likely to ignite that spark, that inner fire that acts as the furnace to achieving your goals.

SMART goals are effective when used in management and practice. They were never designed for large aspirational goals. Nowadays company’s aim for the stars and wish to achieve these ‘out of this world’ kind of goals. If you are a leader that wishes to do so, then setting SMART goals may not be the most effective method to use.

Since George Doran proposed SMART, the world has changed dramatically in terms of knowledge and technological advancements. The process of creating SMART goals have not been updated since which can pose to be an issue in setting modern and relevant goals.

Advances in neuroplasticity indicates the importance of using whole brain thinking. SMART goals are seen to only use the logical left side of our brains while shamelessly excluding the phenomenal power of our right brain.

If I shouldn’t use SMART for BHAG’s, what should I use?

Mark Murphy, who is the CEO of Leadership IQ, stated that one needs a deep emotional connection when setting a goal. This deep-seated connection enhances your chances of success.

His research stated 8 different characteristics that will lead to the achievement of yours and your team’s goals:

  1. Prompt your team to vividly picture the satisfying feeling you get when you achieve your goal.
  2. Provide your team members with the opportunity to enhance their skills which will assist in the achievement of theirs and the team’s goals.
  3. Setting goals are important in assisting your company.
  4. As a leader and a team member you all should be actively involved in the setting of your company’s goals.
  5. You provide your team members with the opportunity to participate in the training required to achieve your team’s goals.
  6. Show your team members the importance of going out of your comfort zone to actualise your goals.
  7. Reiterate to your team that accomplishing your goals will lead to benefits for all stakeholders involved.
  8. Ensure that the team and individual goals are aligned to the main priorities that your company has set out for the year.

Simon Sinek presented a Ted talk which unpacked how a great leader inspires action. Simon spoke of the golden circle model which consists of an outer layer called the “What”, the middle layer called the “How” and the center layer called the “Why”. According to Simon, this circle guides leaders to inspire those around them.

Breaking down each component of this simplistic golden circle we find that the “What” is basically what the organisation does, which is mostly known to all people in the organisation. The “How” refers to how the business runs, which is known to some individuals in the organisation. The “Why” is the most important part of the circle which focuses on the company’s purpose, what does a company believe? Very few leaders or organisations advertise what they believe, and therefore very few employees have bought into what their leader believes.

The reason why this golden circle works is not because of psychology but because of biology. Biologically our brains are made up of different components. The “What” part of the circle triggers our homosapien brains, which forms part of our neocortex. Our neocortex controls our logical and analytical thinking.

The “How” and the Why” form part of our limbic brains which is responsible for our feelings and emotions. What makes these most inner parts of the circle so essential is that they allow us to feel a sense of trust and loyalty while permitting us to make decisions. This is the part of the brain that leaders need to focus on as it allows them to inspire and drive the action they wish to accomplish within their teams.

A leader needs to ensure that when they think, act and communicate that they embody this golden circle, working from the inside out. This way they will be able to inspire action in their team members because what they do and say reflects what they believe. As a team member that understands and envisions what their leader does, they are able to possess and drive behaviour that is in line with the beliefs of their leader.


The Leadership Habit. (2017). 3 Skills You Need To Learn To Drive Results Now. Retrieved from http://crestcomleadership.com/2017/03/28/3-skills-you-need-to-learn-to-drive-results-now/.

Lauren Parkhill. (2017). Step-By-Step Process: SMART Goals for Leaders and Managers. Retrieved from https://www.flashpointleadership.com/blog/what-if-leadership-was-a-smart-goal.

Florida Starks. (2015). Leaders Influence Team Performance and Goal Achievement. Retrieved from https://aboutleaders.com/leaders-influence-team-performance-and-goal-achievement/#gs.w2sjsj.

Impraise. (n.d). How to set goals for your team. Retrieved from https://www.impraise.com/blog/how-to-set-goals-for-your-team.

Scott Christ. (2014). When SMART Goals Don’t Work, Here’s What to Do Instead. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/232909.

Sarah. (2018). WHY SMART GOALS DON’T WORK. Retrieved from https://thepowertoreinvent.com/why-smart-goals-dont-work/.

Simon Sinek. (n,d). How great leaders inspire action. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action/up-next.

Enjoyed our thinking?
Get in touch to understand how we can support you.