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Financial Advisors: Are your goals bold…or boring?

By ClientWise | February 19, 2013


I’m reading a terrific new book, Challenging Coaching, written by John Blakey and Ian Day.

One of their most eye-opening chapters is on goal setting. They lay out a provocative premise. Traditional goal setting models, e.g. SMART goals, are rational, linear, commonsensical approaches to defining objectives and goals. Yet, in their view, SMART goal setting lacks an emotional heart. As such, SMART goals are neither transformative nor courageous.

 Conventional Goal Setting

SMART goal setting has been around for 30+ years. SMART goals are:


S: specific

M: measureable

A: achievable

R: realistic

T: timelined


It all sounds very sensible, doesn’t it?

By the way, an interesting (and lesser known) variant of the SMART goal model is a PRISM goal, which is:


P: personal

R: realistic

I: interesting

S: specific

M: measureable


With the PRISM approach, two factors are added, “personal” and “interesting”. These two concepts imply a level of personalization and individual buy-in, that SMART goals lack.


However, in the view of authors Blakey and Day, both the SMART and PRISM models fall short. In their own words, “They draw heavily on the resources of the left brain and too little on the right brain. Specifically, they are intellectually sound approaches that follow a structured, linear path, yet fail to engage the components of heart and spirit that are often characteristic of our most profound achievements…In practice, this left-brain bias of traditional goal setting is likely to generate incremental goals that are risk averse and safe, as opposed to transformative goals that are bold and exciting.”


Courageous Goals

In contrast to SMART left-brain oriented goals, Blakey and Day make a compelling case for right-brain goals. By their nature, these goals might generate the following responses:


  • Excitement
  • Fear
  • Inspiration
  • Imagination
  • Wonder
  • Adventure


Do you see the difference? SMART goals are “achievable” and “realistic”. (Could you also say that SMART goals are also “safe” and somewhat “boring”?)

Here’s where the courage part comes in. Without courage, a goal that evokes feelings of fear and adventure might be dismissed as too difficult, too risky, and too painful.

Day and Blakey are not the first authors to posit setting daring goals. In Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras coined the term BHAG, a “big, hairy, audacious goal that is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort.” In Masterful Coaching, Robert Hargrove describes an Impossible Future, in which one, “…dares to dream and is unstoppable in realizing it.” 

What all of these authors have in common is that they challenge us to forget about the constraints of the current reality and whatever our perceived obstacles and difficulties might be…and simply focus on the dream.


Challenging coaching questions that support this courageous goal setting might be:


  • If you believed that anything was possible, what would you want to achieve?
  • If there were no constraints around you, what is the limit of your potential?
  • What would be your equivalent of winning an Olympic gold medal?


Take the Test: Bold, or Boring?

Have a conversation about your goals with someone who you really trust with which to share your innermost professional thoughts, i.e. a coach, mentor or a trusted colleague. Describe your goals for the coming year. As you lay out your goals, what’s your emotional reaction? (Not your intellectual assessment.) How do you feel about this goal, or goals? What level of enthusiasm does this evoke for you? What inspires you most about this goal? When have you felt this way about a goal before?

If this conversation, and the goals that you have put forth, really gets you “buzzing” with excitement, that sounds like a very good sign. On the other hand, if the goals seem rather bland and “ho-hum”, maybe it’s time to take a bolder step?


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Topics: Goals

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