Leading Unambiguously: The Importance of Clear, Non-conflicting Goals

It is our responsibility as leaders to provide clear direction to our teams. When we do this, we must ensure that the direction we choose aligns with that of our company or with what our bosses want us to do. If we do not do this, then we can find that our teams are getting different messages, one from us and one from our company or sponsors, which can result in conflicting goals.

I always find it interesting looking at what people say their companies’ goals are, and what they bonus their staff for. If companies say their goals are A, B and  C, and yet they bonus their staff on X, Y and Z, then there are clearly conflicting goals. Companies might not see it as this, but if time becomes an issue, staff will generally focus on what they are bonused for.

Conflicting goals is one of the causes of failures for organisations, because either the team chooses the wrong goal, or they do nothing as they are not sure which of the goals are most important.

We need to define what success looks like and ensure that this is consistently communicated to our teams so that we are all focused on the same goals, and that the goals are not conflicting.

And as leaders, if we do have conflicting goals then it’s our job to address this, even if it means going back to our own bosses and highlighting this conflict.

We cannot lead teams if we have conflicting goals, and our teams will see this as weak leadership if we do not do something to clarify the situation.

We also need to ensure that the management levels beneath us do not change the messages that are being sent, which then might subtly change the goals.

I read a great book on Leadership by Bill Walsh former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and his recommendation on this was that he would drop in unannounced into his direct reports team meetings once a month, to listen to the messages being communicated to ensure that they were in line with his overall message.

If they were not, then he would address this issue with his coaching staff, as he didn’t want to have conflicting goals.

He knew that his team would be much more successful if they were all pulling in the same direction.

If we have clear goals, then teams can focus on execution, if we have unclear or conflicting goals, then our teams need to waste energy and effort trying to understand what they should focus on.

If you want to be successful, then ensure you have clear un-conflicting goals.

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