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Follow Your North Star To Reach Those Goals


I’ve read a lot of books and articles about goal setting, and how important it is to set out a plan to reach those goals, but sometimes figuring out what our goal actually is can be the most difficult part of the process.

I am a coach, not just a business coach but I also coach a number of executives. These are high performing successful people, who are already doing extremely well, and yet they still want coaching. They realise there is more to learn, that they need help to become their best. Like any top athlete, they recognise having a good team of coaches behind them can make the difference between winning and losing. As part of my coaching process I ask people why they do what they do. It’s fascinating to me that by answering just that one question it can have a huge knock-on effect on both their personal and business outlook, because it gets them clear on what path they want to take.

From a business coaching perspective I make sure organisations have their purpose set out. We look at why they exist, why they care, why anyone would miss them. And it’s not about making money, it goes deeper than that. Those organisations where they have purpose can attract better staff, grow faster, they have a direction, but when I sit down and talk to business owners or executives they often don’t have the same purpose set out for themselves. So, one of the exercises that I get people to do is to create, in parallel to creating their business plan, a 10 to 25 year big hairy audacious PERSONAL goal. I get them to do that for themselves so we can find out what they want their legacy to be. You could even go as far as to ask what they would like written on their tombstone, or read at their eulogy. It’s finding that one thing they really want to do. That drives them.

People normally base personal goals — ideals — on four key areas:

1 – A target. They want to achieve something by the time they die. Perhaps climbing Everest. Running 100 marathons. They define their life’s work by reaching that target.

2 – They want to be better than what’s come before. Keeping up with the Joneses I suppose.

3 – You want to emulate someone else. You want to become a peace campaigner like Nelson Mandela. You want to be like your role model.

4 – You’ve got a transformational ideal. You want to reform the justice system, improve child literacy.

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This is all about finding your North Star. What guides you. Gives you direction. It then helps to make decisions based on where you want to end up. For example, change jobs, don’t change jobs.

I know when I started on my career path I set myself a goal of being a managing director by the time I was 40. Actually, without having really any idea what that would mean. I had worked out that’s where I wanted to be so I had a target. Marginal decisions I then made were all with that in mind. I changed jobs, I did an MBA (with electives around HR and marketing), I got managerial roles, I moved into sales management because I was trying to put together a portfolio of skills that would allow me to be a managing director by 40. And because of that I was a managing director by the time I was 32. I was able to get there quicker because I knew what my North Star was and I focused on that. It really helps because when you get to the point where you could go left or right you’ve got something as your touchstone to see what you should do.

I look back now at some of the organisations I’ve left involuntarily and I’m not bitter or angry about any of that because I can see how staying wouldn’t have helped me. I am on a journey and I’m very happy with where I am. That’s in some way down to the core principles I set myself alongside that big goal. It’s the same way you implement core values for a business, you set out what you’re not prepared to compromise on, and one of mine was that I will never do a job that I don’t enjoy doing. That has influenced many of my decisions along the way.

    It’s also why I’ve always had six months cash in the bank for my F*ck Them Fund, so that I could leave a job I no longer enjoyed at anytime. I think the enjoyment factor of a job became such an issue for me because I looked at my father when I was young and he was working in a job he didn’t enjoy, and I decided I was never going to be in that position.

    It’s much like the personal creed John Hawkins gets you set out in his book, Expect Greatness. These creeds he talks about are made up of “those values that are the cornerstones and the very foundations of who you are at the deepest level.” John, rightly, says this creed is different from setting goals or making plans. Instead it’s what you use to “decide what goals or plans you should pursue.” He goes as far as to write them on a card that he keeps with him, and when questions or dilemmas come up he takes out that card and looks at what’s written on it to help him decide which way to go. To decide which way will keep him on that right path.

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    Sometimes, once you find that North Star, it impacts on what business you go into. When you do get to the bottom of a business owner’s purpose, you often find that was what drove them to do what they do. For example, Pete Trainor. I heard him speak at Silicon Beach in Bournemouth two years ago when he movingly revealed how his friend had committed suicide. He then decided to set up an A.I. company to look at how to build the artificial intelligence necessary to mine social media signals, behavioural signals, of men in the hope it will save someone’s life. His purpose is to save one life. He admits he doesn’t know whether he will ever succeed, and that if he is successful he won’t even know it, and yet he continues.

    I don’t think it’s necessary that your North Star, the thing that drives you, is actually achievable. Instead you need to learn how to measure success differently. You can measure success if you know where you are now, where you’ve come from and where you’re going. You have to look at the distance travelled. If today we decide to climb Everest, and that we’re going to walk there before we began climbing, progress would feel slow, the goal would seem a long off and we would only realise how far we’ve gone until we look back. It helps if you can track that and that’s where goals come in. Your goals are your short term metrics, milestones to see how far you’ve come.

    So, when I sit down with individuals and I ask what’s your North Star, I asked them to pick a specific date 10 to 25 years in the future and write it down. I then ask them to write down who they believe their key relationships will be with and what they want for those relationships.

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    Then think very specifically about the next 90 days and what needs to be done in that time period to make sure those relationships are where they want them to be in 10 years time. It’s interesting because not many people have actually thought about this in any detail. It’s like your health — you want to be fit and healthy still at 70, 80, 90 years old so you need to do stuff in the next 90 days, next year, two years….. Like exercise classes, building core strength, perhaps yoga, that’ll help you be where you want to be at that age.

    I look at my own personal goals, and the relationship that I might want with my daughters who are four and two years old at the moment, and I want to make sure that in 10 years time I talk to them everyday. That’s not going to happen if I don’t have a great relationship with them NOW, so what do I have to do everyday or every week NOW to enable my goal to happen? I’m going to make sure I take my eldest daughter to school at least once a week. To make sure I do this I put it in the diary, I make sure I have time away from work to do this. If I don’t do that then I probably won’t have a relationship with her. Like going out for dinner with my wife, if I don’t put it in my diary once a week it doesn’t happen, I’m afraid life gets in the way.

    You don’t need to make huge changes to your life. Here is a hack from a great book called Mini Habits — Stephen Guise says don’t aim too high, don’t over commit. Commit to something small. If you want to start push-ups, start with one. The hardest part is building a habit, and if you make it small but often it’s easier. There’s a guy I know who’s now on 235 push-ups a day because he started like that!

    “A mini habit is a very small positive behavior that you force yourself to do every day; a mini habit’s “too small to fail” nature makes it weightless, deceptively powerful, and a superior habit-building strategy.” Stephen Guise, Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results

    You don’t have to hit 100% but you need to look back regularly to see how far you’ve come, otherwise you’ll be disappointed because you didn’t have a journey and you didn’t track your progress. Author of Willpower Doesn’t Work, Benjamin Hardy, says it’s essential to measure your current self against your previous self, where you were, when you started, if you’re to meet those goals. He also knows having that purpose to drive you is key:

    “Take bigger leaps. Yes, quit your job if it’s holding you back. Put yourself in a position where failure can’t be an option. In order to do that, you have to have something that truly moves and motivates you.”Benjamin P. Hardy,Slipstream Time Hacking: How to Cheat Time, Live More, And Enhance Happiness

    By setting goals, for me and for those I coach, there is a sense of forward momentum. By having that plan in place we can make sure we don’t drift. Because sometimes, without goals, we’re not even aware that we have drifted! I like using the Gazelles One Page Personal Plan that helps you set out all these goals. You can find more about that here — and I’ll pop some links on the bottom of this page too.

    So, now you’ve got all the tools, perhaps today take some time out to think about that North Star. What is yours? And then live everyday as if you’re heading towards that bright light.

    One Page Personal Plan help on completing —

    Watch this video — Pete Trainor

    Read this book for more depth — Simon Sinek Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team

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    Written by expert business coach Dominic Monkhouse — founder of Foundry Media and Foundry 51. Found out more about his work here.

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