Choose stretch goals over modest, achievable targets


Successful leadership can sometimes be reduced to a small number of fundamental choices. Once those choices are made, they guide decisions and behavior in dozens of situations each week.

One of those choices is between “stretch goals” and modest, achievable outcomes.

A stretch goal, as its name implies, is so ambitious that its achievement almost always requires individuals to leave their comfort zones to make deep changes in their beliefs, understanding, and/or habits.

Like all big goals, stretch goals are achieved through many small daily actions over time.

Modest, achievable goals are attractive because most people prefer almost certain  success to the risk of failure inherent in stretch goals.

In addition, modest, achievable goals typically allow us to work within the comfort of our current beliefs, understandings, and practices.

Stretch goals have several benefits:

• Because stretch goals are almost always by their very nature inspirational, they create energy and bring out the best in ourselves and the school community.

• Because of the significant changes demanded by stretch goals, they typically produce outcomes that far exceed those originally thought possible.

• Because stretch goals are achieved through the accumulation of countless daily actions, they offer many en route milestones, each of which provides an opportunity to celebrate progress.

Stretch goals are risky, and they are demanding. But they also hold out the prospect of possibilities that far exceed those we usually imagine.

That prospect makes the pursuit of stretch goals worth the risk, particularly when students are the beneficiaries of our extraordinary efforts.


5 Responses to “Choose stretch goals over modest, achievable targets”

  1. 1 barbarawmadden April 9, 2013 at 6:24 am

    This might seem strange to some but not to you. I still remember with great clarity the day in class Dr. Scott explained stretch goals complete with diagram on the white board and then shared his mantra “Getting Better is Forever.” (That is the day I told him I thought it would be a great book title.) As I recall, he had just that week returned from visiting his doctor in Arkansas. As ill has he had to have felt at times, he never missed a class and was always so positive about everything. He lived stretch goals every day!!

    • 2 Dennis Sparks April 9, 2013 at 11:55 am

      Thanks for sharing that touching story about Scotty, Barbara. Now I know the source of your inspiration about the book.

  2. 3 barbarawmadden April 9, 2013 at 6:34 am

    Reblogged this on that MADDENing teacher and commented:

  3. 4 Nancy Flanagan April 9, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks for challenging what has become conventional wisdom around setting small, manageable targets and then claiming you’ve achieved “results.” In the thirty years I taught music, my students went further and faster than any hoops I ever held up for them. It’s fear of failing that causes us to set limited goals– and we shouldn’t infect our students with our own anxieties.

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