Managing goals, leaders and trimming trees? Hang with me. Let me tell you, I am a goal junkie. I constantly set goals for all kinds of things in my life. They are all SMART goals - they meet the criteria for good goals - I know how to do that. The only problem is my wants always exceed my gets. And that's a problem. How many of you have the same problem? Too many goals - too little time - too many unmet goals that have the ability to demotivate. You know what you want - you know how to get there - but the results simply do not meet the intentions. Leaders know how to fix that all too common condition.
A story about trimming trees:
I have a tree in the backyard. A Palo Verde tree - absolutely beautiful. Green trunk, delicate leaves, many, many branches and, like many desert trees, it's covered with hard, sharp thorns. Tough to trim without my becoming a pincushion - so it didn't get trimmed.
Up until last year it had lots of foliage - even in the driest months. Then something happened, and this year there are any number of small and large branches that are dead - dry as a bone. There's still some foliage, but not what it had been. The tree looks like it's dying. We increased the water, and some of the branches flourished, but many others didn't. I trimmed the outer branches, and removed a lot of the dead growth - but still no real progress.
Finally I consulted a tree expert to see what could be done. The expert took one look at the tree and knew exactly what had to be done. He could see that the tree had grown without any trimming. Lots of small limbs that should have been trimmed had grown into large limbs. There must be 15 or 20 limbs that are creating this pattern of unrestrained growth. Only problem is that the tree's root structure can't support that much foliage - this is a desert tree, adapted to a low water environment. The result is going to be the death of the tree - unless the number of major tree limbs are reduced to no more than 5 to 7.
Since talking to the expert – my tree coach, I've stood back and circled that tree any number of times, and now I know which limbs to remove to get down to 5 to 7 major branches. Looking back, if it had been trimmed periodically it wouldn't need this kind of major surgery. Once the trimming is done, I will have a tree that won't look so good for a while, but it will flourish as it recovers from its foliage overload. My tree expert/coach - told me if I hadn't sought out somebody with knowledge of the type of tree, its structure and needs as well as its growth habits, and then followed the advice given to reduce the burden on the tree root structure, within two to three years the tree would be dead, or blown over by one of the violent summer storms we get in Phoenix.
Now that major surgery is being done, I promise to trim it every six months, and not let this situation occur again.
What does this have to do with goals?
I sat down to review my goals for the first half of the year and wasn't too pleased with my accomplishments. Oh sure - I had gotten a lot done, but there were so many things I had included as either goals or as action items that my list of the things I completed looked pretty puny next to the list of things I wanted to get done. Then it occurred to me that my goals and that Palo Verde tree had a lot in common. And just like that tree, my goals had grown to the point where I could no longer sustain and meet them. I had gotten myself to the place where I had put too much on my plate at one time, and was busily trying to support too much with too little. I realized I had to admit my own limitations.
My goals had become so numerous that many were wilting on the tree - they were undernourished. And yet, I was working my butt off to support all this wild growth. Luckily, I'm stepping back - like my tree expert/coach advised - and taking a really hard look, and cutting back this thicket of goals to 3 to 5 major goals that I can support. I will be better for it - and more successful - and able to support more things in the future, but first I have to trim the tree - keep the 3 to 5 most important goals as the most important goals, and then work them - hard. Leaders know you have to nourish the major branches - and in doing that, allow for stronger long term growth.
Take a look at your own tree of goals, along with your thicket of must do's and have to do's - and if you see too many branches for your resources, trim - and trim aggressively so you can focus on success in the main things. And while your at it, take leadership and get the other people in your universe to do the same.
Do it today - the beginning of the second half of the year is a great time to adjust, reengage, reevaluate, and come out of 2007 with success in the truly most important things.