Setting and Achieving ‘WOW’ Goals

by Mike Burge, Certified Best Year Yet Program Leader, Executive Coach and Publishing Consultant

All dreams appear impossible until someone makes them happen. ~ Barry Neil Kaufman

I believe it was Winston Churchill who once said that the two saddest words, which formed a phrase in the English language, were ‘if only…

When I was a kid, I’d have ideas and make a mental note of them only to find that anything up to 2 years later, someone else had made that idea a reality. ‘Hey, I thought of that,’ I’d say to myself. Yes, but I didn’t take any action!

As I grew up, I learned to start noting down those ideas which were really important to me. (I wouldn’t have called them ‘goals’ – they were what you scored when playing soccer). Some I’d follow up, some I wouldn’t.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized what makes the difference between setting goals and achieving them is how they’re phrased. Anyone can set a goal. It still surprises me how many people – especially those in senior leadership positions – don’t set SMART goals (you know: Specific, Measurable, Relevant, Achievable, Time specific).

I have coached many successful clients in their chosen field, from bestselling authors to senior executives and board directors in well-known organizations. Yet, when it comes to setting a goal or their Top 10 goals for the next 12 months in the Best Year Yet process, the goal itself is…well, a little vague. Some people are more ‘left-brained’ (logical, linear thinkers); others are more ‘right-brained’ (creative, non-linear). We know this and the impact it has when addressing a certain situation or goal.  Although these are very capable and intelligent individuals, they can sometimes struggle with the simple SMART concept of goal-setting.

Interestingly, if they are in business, they may be better at setting an organizational goal that is SMART. Yet if they are setting that goal specifically for themselves, that skill escapes them.

I have a sense that it’s something to do with what that goal actually means to them. As ‘Supercoach’ Michael Neill would describe it, as soon as the ‘wow’ factor makes an appearance in our thinking, it both excites us and scares us into thinking that it’s impossible for us to achieve that goal. And what happens in that instance is that an individual will note it down because it’s important to them, but then can become vague and wishy-washy about some of the specifics, or the measures, or realistic milestones required to achieve that goal – to make that goal real.

Let me give you an example. I worked once with a client who was a business coach and trainer and had always wanted to write and have her book published. We went through the process of making her annual plan, and when it came to choosing this goal, the language of the goal became all very vague: it was as if the fear of not achieving that goal (of potentially receiving many rejection letters from publishers) was impacting her massive ability to write a great book and for it to be accepted on merit. We worked together in getting the phraseology of this goal right, getting the intention and timeline down so that she was happy with it. And then we did a deal together. If I supported her in writing the book (which frankly she wrote with ease by herself, using all the resources that Best Year Yet’s PRO system has to offer), then the very act of writing it was what she could control, she would become ‘committedly detached’ from what came next.

She felt empowered, excited, fulfilled and just overjoyed by writing a good book on time and on schedule. Then she sent it off to a targeted list of publishers. And then…the rejections started coming in – from all of them! Yet in one coaching session, whilst reviewing what they said (some were standard rejection letters, one or two were more specific), I suggested she re-read one such letter, and imagine it wasn’t personal, i.e. it wasn’t to her. She did so, and what became clear was that here was an opening for a conversation from the editor. She picked up that letter and wrote back, asking if she could buy the editor a coffee and just ask a few questions. The editor agreed. And within 3 months, certain elements of the book were re-written and the book was accepted for publication. She has since written three additional business management books, all of which have sold out.

So the learning’s here are:

  • Include in your one-year plan, goals that have that ‘wow’ factor.
  • Allow yourself to be supported and to acknowledge what the goal means to you, even if it does generate uncomfortable feelings.
  • Some goals will feel a ‘stretch’, but they’re the ones which mean the most to you.
  • Set your intention (your goal(s) and take care of what you do have control over (in this case, the draft of the book).
  • Become committedly detached – take all possible actions you can to further your goal, whilst imagining you’re doing it for someone else. Receive the feedback and take the next step without it meaning anything against you personally.

This doesn’t apply just to ‘creatives’ or writers. I’ve worked with business people who have wanted to start up their own successful business and have come across just the same emotional journey as this writer did.  And through similar challenges, to have their businesses be great successes; as well as individuals in organizations who have turned round failing businesses into highly profitable ones. The one thing they all have in common has been the more precise the goal is, the more engaging and powerful it is. Looking at that goal regularly and connecting with that ‘wow’ factor you had when you first created it, and remember the SMART acronym as you set your Annual and Monthly Goals.

And me? Well, I learn from my clients too. I’m not that kid anymore who saw ‘his’ ideas made real by others. I’m already through the first draft of my first novel. When the working title ‘Damaged Goods’ is published in 2013, you can be sure I’ll be letting you know.

To your success!

Mike has over 1000 hours’ of successfully coaching senior managers and executives up to board level in the private and public sectors. His area of specialism include such topics as  developing team and individual performance, supporting clients to have their best year yet by bridging the gap between strategy and actual performance, and enabling them to become masters at producing results. He also has extensive experience in the areas of helping clients overcome specific interpersonal and presentational challenges, increasing sales and other key performance indicators within their organisation. In addition, he helps them create sustainable turnaround situations in their work and lives.

He is  a business owner, entrepreneur and has held non-executive directorships in other companies in the SME sector.

Mike graduated with an Honors degree in Economics, and by 28 was the youngest director of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, working closely with authors such as Jeffrey Archer, John Le Carre, Delia Smith, and Stephen King.  He has 18 years of success working in book publishing – in sales, editorial, distribution, and general management, – all at director or a senior level.

He has managed turnaround situations for organisations and teams both in the UK and overseas, helping to make previously unprofitable businesses profitable for the first time, as well as managing teams internationally to perform at their highest level of expertise.

He has over 15 years’ experience in coaching and consultancy and has worked with such blue chip clients as Asda, GlaxoSmithKline, BP, ChevronTexaco, BOC, SG Hambros, Intel, Honda, Balfour Beatty, EDF Energy, SSK Smurfit Kappa UK and BAA’s London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 project. He has also worked extensively in the SME sector.

Mike offers great experience of multinational business development, sales and marketing management experience at plc and senior director level. During his career, Mike has worked in a variety of business sectors as well as the public sector and is very conversant with the challenges that face leaders as well as senior managers.

He is a fully accredited coach, an accredited NLP Practitioner and holds various diplomas in Business and Performance Coaching. Additionally, he is a fully accredited international Best Year Yet Programme Leader and Coach.

He has also in his consulting career been part of the team that won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade in 2004.

For more information, his contact details are



Phone: +44 (0)7968 970826