One of the challenges in leadership or even when trying to set goals for your own life is setting achievable, yet demanding targets.

Set the bar too low and you’ll do it in a canter, but set it too high and you may subconsciously give up because you know (or think you know) that it can’t be done.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an epiphany regarding this challenge.  There’s no such thing as incremental improvement!

In other words, if you are looking for a piddly 2-3% gain from year to year you are not genuinely getting better and not achieving all that you can.

Let me explain why:

The rate of change is greater than 2-3%.  Every year, there are dramatic shifts in technology and methods of doing business.  This places companies who are on the crest of this innovation at a significant advantage over those who plod along.  The best organisations and leaders will be setting their sights on breaking new ground and creating new markets.  2-3% won’t cut it in this world and in relative terms you’ll actually be going backwards and becoming more irrelevant.

Big goals pull you forward.  I recently heard of a thriving church who aim every year to grow their congregation by 18%.  Now that’s a big goal that every person in their organisation is aware of and works towards with passion and fervour.  They may miss the mark and only achieve 15%, but it’s still much bigger and bolder than if they had aimed for a more “reasonable” 2-3%.

Mediocrity is contagious and habitual.  By setting low targets, you automatically say to your people (and yourself) that they are only capable of achieving something small and insignificant.  You also create a culture where you only ever aim small and never reach for the stars, guaranteeing that anyone with any ambition or drive will either lose their mojo or leave to follow someone who can match their dreams.  After a while, you end up “celebrating” your moderate achievements, rationalising that you’ve met your goals so you must be doing something right.

Don’t fall for it.  Set the bar high.  So high that you’ll have to work, think and lead differently to last year.

You may just save your organisation (and yourself) from a slow, boring slide in to oblivion.

There’s no such thing as incremental improvement, just incremental extinction.

Are your personal and leadership goals ambitious enough?

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