How do you identify and achieve your goals?

20130222_Me_@_MYLC_with_Dick Elder
With Theta Chi National President Dick Elder (far left) and another alumnus on Friday, February 22, the evening before my session.

In the video below I am presenting an individual goal setting session at the Mid-Year Leadership Conference of Theta Chi Fraternity at UCLA on Saturday, February 23, 2013.

Having helped found the (dearly departed) UC Santa Barbara chapter of Theta Chi it was an honor to participate in this event as an alumnus instructor. Since my birthday was the day before, it was a great gift to share my knowledge with undergraduate members of an organization I admire.

As an undergraduate I attended several events like this so I was well aware how events like this can positively impact personal growth and professional development. I met with a multitude of motivated undergraduates; their earnest desire to improve themselves and their fraternity was inspiring. Events like this made me proud to be a Theta Chi and grateful to be a teacher.

Of course you don’t have to be a member of Theta Chi — or any other fraternal organization — to appreciate what I shared during my session. It is my hope you find value in my presentation beyond the audience for whom I first prepared it.

I welcome your insights and ideas as well; I am a teacher because I am a lifelong learner. It would be my pleasure to learn from and with you as I did on this day with my undergraduate brothers in Theta Chi!

To recap the content in the video:

  • Why setting your goals is important.
  • Goal setting brainstorming and audience interaction.
  • A personal story about how we undermine our goals.
  • How to focus yourself with help from your colleagues.
  • Why setting your goals (not someone else) is important.
  • A personal story about setting my goals after undergrad.
  • Dealing with parents who try to set your goals for you.
  • What happens when you don’t set goals for yourself.
  • How to set and achieve your goals with your I.D.E.A.

You can also view via Slideshare the presentation I used in the above video:

Richard Branson‘s got nothing on William Bradford.

As the governor of Plymouth Colony for more than 30 years, Bradford oversaw the development of what could be considered one of America’s first entrepreneurial ventures. An impressive leader, Bradford leveraged his clarity of vision and accuracy of decisions that lead to the Colony’s impressive growth despite adverse conditions.


But he wasn’t alone in his accomplishments: the members of Plymouth Colony also embraced an entrepreneurial attitude. Had that not happened, Bradford could not have succeeded. To paraphrase a popular leadership proverb: without followers, you’re just someone out for a walk.

Pilgrim's Pride in LegosIn that spirit I prepared the list below of 8 entrepreneurial insights learned from the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims:

1. Have Vision: It took tremendous ability to envision life in the New World and the confidence to venture forth into the unknown. Similarly, in her noteworthy TED Talk, The secret structure of great talks, Nancy Duarte discovered that great leaders define “what is” and “what could be.”

2. Embrace Ambiguity: The Pilgrims had no idea what to expect when they departed for the New World they and, when they did arrive, they were 200 miles off course.  Yet they didn’t let that stop them from venturing forth into the unknown with determination and drive. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and approach a challenge from an unfamiliar perspective.

3. Confront Adversity: The Pilgrims endured an almost endless array of hardships and challenges during and after their 66 day sailing. During the first winter 45 out of 102 settlers died! Yet, they persevered and made the most of what they had. It is often through challenging times we discover a strength inside ourselves that might have otherwise been dormant.

4. Take Risks: Imagine how history might have been different if the Pilgrims had not taken a risk and boarded the Mayflower? I might not even be sitting here writing this blog post. Consider the thoughts of former hockey great Wayne Gretzky who is credited as saying “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Although he has no connection to the Pilgrims, his words are exceptionally relevant.

5. Celebrate Community: This idea is the most thematically related to Thanksgiving — after all, it is the reason the holiday is celebrated. Although the way we give thanks is different from the Pilgrims’ experience, the goal is the same: gather with friends and family to celebrate the achievements while embracing gratitude for everything you have, not what you don’t.

6. Leverage Partnerships: The Pilgrims were not fully prepared to flourish in their new home. Had they not signed treaties with Native Americans like Samoset (a member of the Abenaki tribe), Squanto (a member of the Pawtuxet tribe),  and Massasoit (the leader of the Wampanoag), the Pilgrims very well might not have survived that first winter.

7. Encourage Innovation: Sometimes adversity can inspire ingenuity; necessity is the mother of invention after all. And, if ever there was a group of people who needed to be innovative when an original option failed, it was the Pilgrims. Even on of their original two ships, the Speedwell, proved unfit for the Atlantic crossing, which forced them to consolidate into the Mayflower.

8. Give Thanks: There are many things we don’t have enough of, but there are also a many things we have in great supply. The Pilgrims didn’t have much yet they appreciated what they had (they certainly didn’t fight each Happy Thanksgivingother over the latest Xbox the day after Thanksgiving). People want to feel appreciated, even for “just” doing their job.

Although the Pilgrim’s first arrived nearly 400 years ago, their entrepreneurial achievements remain relevant.  So, if you own your own business or are independently minded, consider integrating the 8 ideas above into your operations. 

Sometimes inspiration comes from strange places.


On March 9, 2009, two tweets from @DianeHessan caught my eye:

Ben Zander is the Conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, a teacher, popular TED Talk presenter, and author of “The Art of Possibility,” an inspirational book he wrote with his wife,  Rosamund Zander, a family therapist and executive coach. The book presents 12 “practices” by which you can reframe your present situation to better achieve your goals. Basically, “The Art of Possibility” is about learning to take charge of your life instead of letting your life take charge of you.

Prior to seeing @DianeHessan‘s tweets I was thinking about my life and the challenges with which I had been dealing. The first practice, “It’s All Invented,” was particularly poignant for me, both for my personal situation and the larger economic situation. While there are still many unresolved issues with which I am dealing, reviewing the practices feels like a sensible way to make sense of a very nonsensical world.

I originally wrote the following summaries of the 12 practices on October 23, 2006 in EDOL 740, Personal Leadership, helmed by the always inspiring Robert C. Paull, PhD in the Pepperdine University EdD program in organizational leadership. I likewise hope you find some inspiration in my thoughts:

Practice One – It’s All Invented: Life is what I make it – because everything is about attitude. Although some events are beyond my control, the way I respond to them is within my grasp. This practice encourages me to realize that a scenario is just as likely to be positive as it is to be negative and, since being positive is healthier, why not look for the good?

Practice Two – Stepping into a Universe of Possibility: It is easy to live in a word of measurement in which everything is finite. However, beyond this world of limitations is a universe of limitless possibility. While recognizing the occasional necessity for measurement, I must endeavor to live in the universe of possibility as often as possible.

Practice Three – Giving an A: When I worry about being graded or judged on something, I focus more on only doing what it takes to ensure a good score. This mentality prevents me from learning and throws me into the world of measurement. While getting an “A” honors the potential in people, it doesn’t remove responsibility. It is a possibility to live into, rather than a standard to live up to. It also rests heavily in the concept of forgiveness.

Practice Four – Being a Contribution: A contribution is a gift of my insights, intellect and intention to other people or their gifts of the same to me. Becoming a contribution requires constantly contributing to the lives of those around you. However, being a contribution doesn’t mean I should shy from confrontation as that might be my necessary contribution.

Practice Five – Leading from any Chair: Where I am in an organization doesn’t limit or entitle me: I am more than my position, I am my possibility. As a leader I should listen to those who usually follow and invite them to share their ideas and implement their initiatives.

Practice Six – Rule Number 6: Life is a about learning, love and laughter. Don’t sweat the small stuff because it’s all small stuff! Through this practice I must learn to lighten up my calculating self and avoid the downward spiral of inadequacy, blame, resentment and frustration. By doing so, my central self – the generative, prolific and creative nature in the world and myself – can shine through like a light of hopeful possibility.

Practice Seven – The Way Things Are: I must be present to the way things are, both around me and within me. However, I cannot allow my expectations and assumptions about how things “should be” cloud my awareness of their existence in the present tense. Once I accept things the way they are, I can open myself up to my possibility and seek out solutions.

Practice Eight – Giving Way to Passion: Energy is the essence of life and passion is the conduit through which I can experience it. Being passionate requires realizing barriers are all invented and I must boldly engage my universe of possibility to realize the power of life.

Practice Nine – Lighting a Spark: If I want to enroll others in my vision I must energize people to follow me as a leader by igniting a spark of possibility within them. The key to lighting a spark is physical presence: being with a person and sharing in their energy is the only way I can demonstrate your commitment to them and ensure they become committed to me. I might also find that they light a spark in me as well, making the relationship reciprocal.

Practice Ten – Being the Board: I am the board on which the game of my life is being played and I can control the rules by which everything happens. So, when I start feeling like I am a victim and bad things in life are happening “to me” I need to stop and realize that things in life are happening “because of me.” In the event that things literally happen beyond my control, I must take responsibility for how I act and avoid “shoulds” and “oughts.”

Practice Eleven – Creating Frameworks for Possibilities: I must endeavor to live in a universe of possibilities by creating frameworks in which doing so can happen and the energy of possibility overcomes the downward spiral. Visions that speak to that which is fundamental to humanity enable dreams to make a difference. A vision can become a framework for possibility when it articulates a possibility, fulfills a desire fundamental to humankind, makes no reference to morality or ethics, is stated as a picture for all time no metrics, points to neither a rosier future or a past in need of improvement, is a long line of possibility radiating outward, and just speaking it transforms the person saying it.

Practice Twelve – Telling the WE Story: Life is not about “us” against “them” but about “WE,” the togetherness created by the union of a shared melody running through the hearts of all the people on earth. WE is about inclusion and cohesion – about finding what we have in common and working from that rather than looking for ways to separate us as different from one another. WE is the embodiment of symphonia – the sounding of all voices together, in unison as one living, breathing entity.

I hope you find as much inpiration and guidance in these practices as I have. I know that reconnecting with them has already begun to help me think more clearly. Happy birthday, Ben!