top of page

5 steps to create and prioritize goals

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by all you need to do you have no idea where to begin? Do you have so many plates in the air you start calling yourself Jack – as in Jack of all trades, master of none…? According to Stephen Denning, author of The Secret Language of Leadership, balancing too many goals doesn’t make you a jack of trade, it marks you a failure. Denning stated, “when people try to tackle a large number of goals, they fail in all” and “no one can be a successful leader in all domains simultaneously”. As CEO of a statewide trade organization and a graduate student, I have experienced this paralysis, but have learned ways to gain mobility. Implement this five-step process to clarify goals and set priorities and you’ll break out of the paralysis of overwhelm to become a master of your trade.

Embrace the power of single-mindedness

To begin this process, jot down all the domains in which you have issues. Examples of domains may be as broad as your world, community, organization or family or as narrow as departments of an organization, or aspects within your own job description. Upon which of these domains can you really set your focus and passion? Circle the domain you intend to single-mindedly address and finish this step by listing all the problems in this domain.

Consider Timing

Consider the problems you have identified in terms of timing. Does something jump out as critical? Is there a crisis that needs a solution? Is something brewing that may turn into a crisis? Is there a project or program that has been in the developmental stages nearing completion? Are constituents ready for the implementation of one of these nearly completed projects? Circle the pressing or timely problem and proceed to step three.

Articulate a clear, inspiring goal

This step will take imagination and the most time. Thinking in context of the domain you have identified and the problem to address, visualize a future in which this issue is effectively resolved. What does that future look like? What changes were implemented to address the problem? How did constituents react? What communication tools were utilized? What obstacles were overcome? What benefits arose? While you are daydreaming, write down key words and use them to start writing a well-articulated goal. Consider the importance of a compelling benefit common to key participants as well as measurability of the goal. How will you know when the goal is reached? Include an intended date of completion to clearly define the expectations, retain momentum and involve everyone in a sense of purpose. You might also consider one of the following templates to help solidify the goal language:

SMART: This template is common in the business world and stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

SILVER: This template introduces an emotional aspect and stands for Specific, In time, Life affirming, Values led, Ethical, and Robust. A key difference in this process is ensuring the goal improves people’s lives rather than creating more work for them. It also ensures the goal aligns with organizational values, is ethical, and is challenging but realistic.

STAR: Using this template practitioners identify Situations, Targets, Actions, and Reflection. This process analyzes what is happening now and what needs to change, identifies the target or goal, predicts the actions required, and studies whether the actions produced the desired results.

Embrace the goal

Once you have identified the domain to work within, the timely problem to address, and engagingly articulated the goal, you must fully embrace the goal yourself. Researchers confirm leaders need both goal-setting and buy-in skills. Buy-in is the ability to motivate people to achieve goals. No buy-in leads to no motivation, which leads to failure to realize goals. The most important aspect of soliciting buy-in from your constituents is to make an inner decision to adopt a stance and make an outward plea to others to do likewise. Grab this big, hairy, audacious goal in a giant bear hug and make it your single-minded mission to achieve it. Your enthusiasm will spread when people see it and believe in your sincerity. Faked enthusiasm leads to real disappointment.


Now that you know how to clarify, articulate and embrace goals, let’s take a look at how to keep them under control. Eric Biber wrote in The Harvard Environmental Law Review that when people are faced with multiple goals, they tend to overproduce on complimentary, easily measured goals. They underproduce on hard to measure goals. Review your list and ensure goals do not contradict each other or the organizational culture and objectives. If you still have an overwhelming number of goals, see if you can combine any closely related objectives into one. While there is no universal magic number of goals that is just right for everyone, try to keep your list to a number that is challenging, but doable. 

By embracing timely, clear, measurable goals with single-mindedness and passion, while maintaining a manageable priority list, you can stop worrying about dropping a plate and completely losing your balance.


bottom of page