How to Stay on Track With Ambitious Long-Term Goals: The Gold Spikes Method

“You can’t grow long-term if you can’t eat short-term. Anybody can manage short. Anybody can manage long. Balancing those two things is what management is,” says Jack Welch, past CEO for GE.  Achieving that balance is what separates elite leaders from competent ones. I watch my clients struggle to balance the long and short- term goals. They want to figure out:

  • How do I ignite enduring motivation and take consistent action to achieve long-term goals when my time seems to be consumed delivering near-term results?
  • What needs to happen when the primary strength responsible for my past success actually undermines any chance of achieving my long-term goals?

sports-in-americaSince most businesses haven’t solved these dilemmas, I study sports champions to gain counter-intuitive insights and tools. This past Thanksgiving, I shared my greatest sports moment in an interview for the HBO/Sports Illustrated documentary, “Sport in America.” I picked Michael Johnson’s 200-meter world record sprint at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. If you remember, Johnson ran in gold spikes, signifying his goal of winning a gold medal. Watching from the stands, I knew instantly that Johnson wasn’t trying to make a fashion statement or display arrogance. He was delivering a motivational lesson for anyone aspiring to deliver breakthrough results that require months or even years to achieve.

Click the button below to see a piece of Art’s interview segment from “Sport In America”

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The Gold Spikes Method

The crowd at Turner Field recognized the history-in-the-making stakes.  If Michael Johnson wins this race, he becomes the first sprinter to win the 400 and 200-meter dash at an Olympics or World Championship event.

Why is this dual win an unprecedented feat? Conventional wisdom says you can’t switch from the raw power of the 200 to the patient strategy of the 400 without losing your edge in both races. To even have a chance, Johnson had to persuade Olympic officials to change the etched-in-stone track and field schedule to carve out a few hours recuperation time between the 400-meter finals and the 200-meter qualifying races. So a year earlier, he won both races at the World Championships which galvanized public support for the schedule change. Michael Johnson’s winning time 19.32 seconds shocked track experts whose statistical extrapolations predicted that kind of 200-meter speed in the year 2020!

Here’s the lesson I drew from my favorite sports moment. The gold spikes were evidence of Johnson’s “declaration” of the possibility of racing for an unprecedented pair of gold medals. A declaration is an act of speaking that brings forth a future the moment it is spoken (source: Tracy Goss, The Last Word on Power, and Landmark Education). A declaration gets treated differently from a long-term goal/vision that’s regarded with a lenient (“whenever”) attitude like “Time will eventually become available to make a concerted effort.” When you make a declaration, your actions instantly correlate with the logical steps required to accomplish your far-fetched goal. Your declaration proclaims that you will make the full effort to bring about the desired outcome with no guarantee you’ll be successful.

Here’s a simple way to think about making and living in alignment with a declaration. Imagine you’re writing a story in which you play the lead role. In the first scene, you boldly publicize your declaration. If you lack the capabilities to deliver on your vision depicted in the story, then your lead role calls for creating a plan to enable you to develop the needed skills or enroll experts to perform such tasks. You’ll also need to establish new routines to afford consistent time for your new priorities.

Case example 1:  A magnum opus, pass-along book

I made a declaration to establish high standards and orchestrate time and resources to write my upcoming book, Competent is Not an Option. I can describe my declaration with these five guidelines:

  •  Use language that evokes you to act the part you’re playing.  I use two terms to describe my book declaration.  “Magnum opus”: meaning it will be my best-ever masterpiece product.  “Pass-along book”:  meaning the content will encourage readers to invite their colleagues to get a copy.
  • Publicize your declaration from the outset. I deliberately sought highly-credentialed endorsers like Billy Beane, subject of the movie Moneyball, Pete Carroll, Super Bowl-winning coach, Ken Blanchard, a management guru, plus executives from Starbucks and Nike. Having their endorsements before the full book was done inspired me to deliver a product worthy of their accolades.  In other words, purchase gold spikes years before you run the gold medal race.
  • Enroll an elite supporting cast. My writing skills pale by comparison to my speaking and coaching skills.  A magnum opus work would require selecting a team of outstanding editors.  I engaged a developmental editor to help conceive a framework for 200 pages of content that’s easy to read and practical to implement.  I hired not one, but two copy editors to clean up grammar and punctuation.
  • Build in new routines to correlate with your declaration.  Given so much of my time is already allocated to business and competing in masters track, I installed routine hours for writing.  Creative writing gets done in the early morning.  Refining copy takes place in the late evening.
  • Give yourself a job title that reflects your leading role.  My job title is elite performance game-changer.

Case example 2: A sales VP reinvents himself as a developmental leader

One of my clients, Andy Tysler, VP of Sales for Deschutes Brewery, made his declaration to give up relying on his primary strengths and reinvent a new role (and job title):

“I’m no longer a sales manager offering up random acts of training or offering coaching when a direct report makes a mistake. I’m a full-time developmental leader who’s available to reinforce my team members’ good habits, help them improve on poor habits, and discover their strengths and weaknesses.”

  • Publicize your declaration from the outset: Within weeks of attending my seminar for his executive education program, Andy presented his key take-away learning points to the Deschutes’ sales force. He took an even stronger measure by revising the annual performance improvement plans.
  • Build in new routines to correlate with your declaration.  Andy turned “work-with” days in the field with sales managers into teachable moments.  In debriefing sales calls, he initially kept quiet and let his team members assess their own performance. To stop being stingy in recognizing strengths, Andy began his feedback by citing performance improvements.
  • Enroll an elite supporting cast.  When Andy found his 2014 Annual Training Week budget was already expended, he negotiated for double the funds to afford the slate of outside speakers to deliver vital expertise for accomplishing his declaration.

I invite you to declare a story worth telling, take on the lead role, and assemble your supporting cast today. Don’t forget to dress the part. Conceive your version of a journey worthy of wearing gold spikes.