Brian graduated from college with a degree in business and began working in sales and marketing at a regional construction company soon after. He became quite successful as the company grew quickly. Every year, Brian was promoted. Eventually a team of salespeople reported to him. Around that time, the company really took off, and his role grew even more. He was traveling all the time, with high levels of intensity as the company was acquiring more and more businesses. He was under a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver results and turnaround operations. Brian always saw himself as a creative sales and marketing person; but after 10 years, he realized that’s not who he was anymore. He had become an operations guy, implementing process and procedure. All the things he loved about sales and marketing, like creativity, connection and collaboration, had no place in his day-to-day anymore. In the meantime, Brian was struggling to manage his team. His management style was simple: He wanted his team to do everything in a way that made his life easier. He didn’t like his job, so he wanted it to be as painless as possible. That meant putting pressure on his teammates to do more work, and being impatient when they couldn’t deliver. Brian was not only unhappy in his job. His personal life suffered, too. Over time, he had resorted to alcohol as a way to relax. Ultimately, he became dependent on having a few drinks every night. He was drinking too much and his relationships were strained both at home and work.
Is this happening to you or someone you know? Brian spent 15 years chasing—and attaining—the goals of his company, and what seemed at the time to be his own goals. But in the meantime, he abandoned his personal goals. Leaders often pursue goals that aren’t their own. It’s easy to blur the lines. It becomes a perpetual process of deferring one’s own goals and dreams for other goals and dreams. It seems harmless at the time. Sometimes pursuing someone else’s dreams can be rewarding, even fulfilling, in the short term. Maybe there’s a raise, a promotion, or recognition that comes with achieving a company goal or another person’s agenda. But after a while, if those goals don’t align with your own personal goals, fulfillment becomes elusive. In a fast-paced work environment, or when financial or business success is being achieved, it’s not easy to spot the signs of unease. Take Brian, for example. After 15 years, nobody called him on his lackluster management style, and even though he wasn’t happy, he still got the job done. He had to abandon his personal goals and dreams, and his personal price for that was high! How can we avoid a 15-year detour like Brian’s? Here are some steps that can help you connect with your own goals and dreams and keep them in check as you encounter other detours.
Define success for yourself.
Take a minute to describe what success looks like to you. Write it down. Is your idea of success about making others happy? Is it about feeling important? These are some of the most common reasons leaders lose sight of their own goals in pursuit of someone else’s. Many of us are people pleasers. In fact, I spend a lot of time coaching people to say what they think rather than go along with what I think. If your idea of success is wrapped up in pleasing someone else, whether that’s a manager, shareholders or even your spouse, then dig deeper. What does success look like when the only person you are making happy or fulfilled is yourself?
Write it down. Use that definition going forward.
Take a Risk.
Do you think your dreams and goals are too risky? Think again. In corporate America, we’ve made it easy to think that taking risks could be costly. So, a lot of times leaders are afraid to take risks. They think if they take a risk that is the end of their career. We’ve created an environment where it’s easy to follow the status quo rather than think about your own ideas and dreams. If your goals and dreams are risky, then that’s even more reason you should be pursuing them with determination every day. Some of us think it’s too late to take a risk. Remember, J.K. Rowling published Harry Potter when she was 42. Our life doesn’t end until our life ends. In the meantime, we can take risks and live out our dreams.
Is your idea of success tied up with working hard? That’s okay, to an extent. Our society really admires workaholism. We tell ourselves that we need to work hard to get ahead. We don’t say if you work too hard, you lose balance, which is even more truthful. Our social structure doesn’t naturally make space to step back and re-tool and think differently about their dreams.
Engage the conversation about your goals, and ask others about theirs.
As leaders, we must facilitate this discussion. We should ask our team members about their personal dreams and goals all the time. This should certainly be a point that is brought up in reviews, and followed up on in subsequent conversations. There’s a reason it was so easy for Brian to forget about his dreams. Nobody was asking him what they were. Eventually, Brian remembered his dreams. The culture at work began to take a negative turn, and the pressure gave him an unexpected pause, that caused him to evaluate other areas, and seek help! Once recovered, Brian went back to school and pursued his passion for marketing, moving into the creative side of business. He left the construction world and started working for a smaller advertising firm. He continued to be successful, and started to feel fulfilled and happy, too. Brian continues to pursue healing and recovery for his personal relationships.
How will your story end?