Don’t Let Yourself Become the Bad Boss You Despised

Years ago, in my first professional job for a multinational corporation, we set objectives annually and reviewed then quarterly in a formal boss/subordinate relationship.

Later, as a co-founder in a small business, we set objectives as needed, not on a calendar schedule, just informally amongst the owners.

Finally, as a solopreneur, I set goals and objectives for myself and my business. Then I reset them, again, and again, and again. Toss them in the trash and start over. If you are in a work from home role or MLM, you know I’m talking about.

In every scenario, from a global corporation to solopreneur, the purpose of this process was the same.

Track past performance, adjust, and improve

Oh yeah, one more thing—the process was intended to motivate.

That part was a failure. It just generated stress, anxiety, and the feeling of being habitually overwhelmed.

In the quest to motive people and improve performance, the process included the concept of “stretch objectives.”

The definition implied it was something that would require extra effort, or at least figure out smarter ways to get things done. The old work smarter not harder mantra. I just loved being managed by slogans.

In practice, the objective setting process wasn’t motivating. It became something that was avoided and dreaded.

Somehow “stretch” results transformed into “expected” results and the failure to complete them a bludgeon.

Those stretch objectives needed a more accurate term.  Pipe Dreams, Drinking-the-Kool-Aid or simply STRESS objectives.  They weren’t realistic. When an objective is out of reach, that isn’t motivating, it just produces anxiety.

This tendency to define insane stretch objectives persisted in my roles as a small business owner and solopreneur. I’m not sure why. 

Brainwashed by the Corporate Machine

Was the toxic culture of corporate management ingrained into my DNA after so many years? Or, is this just the norm a capitalistic culture?

Big question.

Looking for answers, I discovered the book, Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg. The book deals with a lot of the topics I was debating.

One of his big ideas: at a certain point in time, corporate America was suffering from the practice of setting trivial objectives.

He details several historical cases of big companies (GE for example) that had issues with their goal setting methods. The objectives were set to simply perform routine tasks and were inconsequential to achieving excellence.

Trivial objectives—really. Is that in a parallel universe?

What’s up with this radical difference between how I experienced the workplace and how the author depicted it?

It’s an interesting book, tons of great Amazon reviews.

Duhigg is a great story teller. He recounts other examples to support his points, such as the development of high-speed rail in Japan and the Yom Kippur war.

And he puts these in the context of SMART objectives. Like most business authors, many of these examples are a forced-fit into the paradigm he’s pitching.

He might have tossed in Rosa Parks too, I forget. It seems like I’ve read her story told a dozen different ways to prove a point—always a different point.

So, what’s MY point?

Setting goals and objectives is critical but doesn’t need to be insane. It needs to be realistic, motivating and inspirational and eventually lead to great things.

The goal setting practice in my corporate life was a big slice of insanity pie. And for whatever reason, I continued that insanity in my life as a small business owner and a solopreneur.

I decided to re-invent the process to something that is reasonable and practical. Following the solopreneur path is hard enough; I don’t need to be my own worst boss.

I separated the achievable from the exceptional.

There is something about quantifying exceptional performance that destroys its essence.

The 4-Minute Mile barrier stood for decades. In 1954, Roger Banister finally ran a sub-4-minute mile.

What if he had a documented stretch objective to run a mile in under 4 minutes? Then, after he achieved it, his coach said congratulations, you achieved your stretch objective.

He just “achieved” his objective.  Think about that. He achieved? Really – just achieved.

Why not set the objective as a 4-minute mile, then when you run faster, you have exceeded?

Here’s my new paradigm. My objectives for the day, week or month will be realistic.

Completing those tasks is actually motivating and creates forward momentum. Occasionally exceeded that feels great.

Creating a solopreneur business is a battle in the trenches every day.Stress, anxiety and overwhelm are the norm.

Keeping the focus on immediate daily tasks is the only way I get through the day and remain sane.

What about the bigger idea, the dream, the passive income, nomadic lifestyle and all that crap?

I’m not formally documenting that dream. It will take care of itself.

I’m simply striving to create something of quality.

Hopefully, my message will resonate with a few people. How many—who knows. I’m not putting a number on it with a definition of Met or Exceeded or Stretch.

If a zillion people fall in love with it—great. (Actually, that sort of success often become a problem. My ego would probably explode my brain.)

I think a small community will be just fine, where I can interact with a tribe (in Seth Godin’s words).

How large a tribe, Kevin Kelly says 1,000 is enough. Sounds good to me.

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