I firmly believe that setting stretching, but reasonable and realistic goals is critical to good leadership. However there are. mistakes leaders make in setting goals with their team members. Carey Nieuwhof shares five common mistakes that are often made.

Guest post by Carey Nieuwhof

If you’re like most leaders, you have moments where you get frustrated with your team because they miss goals.

It’s never been more important for your team to crush their goals. It’s also never been more difficult.

Many teams feel disoriented, which makes missing targets or objectives even more likely. And speaking of targets and objectives, how do you even know what to shoot for in an environment as confusing as our environment right now?

All of these are great questions, and fortunately, there are answers.

After leading teams for over two decades, here are five mistakes to avoid when setting church goals with your team.

The solution for many of these issues is a framework that I call “Results-Based Leadership” which I outline it in-depth inside The Art of Team Leadership course here!

5 Common Mistakes People Make When Setting Goals

1. You don’t have a clearly owned mission, vision, and set of values

Your mission, vision, and values decide how and in what direction your team runs when you aren’t around.

Most organizations know enough to throw up a mission statement and set of values on the wall, but it usually doesn’t make it into the hearts of the team. What’s on the wall often isn’t owned down the hall.

It’s the same with cultural values. So many leaders take time to try to define the culture they want, but often there’s a big gap between the culture they want and the culture they have. In addition, most staff members couldn’t name more than one cultural value their organization has embraced.

So, how can you tell if your team actually owns your mission, vision, and cultural values?

Here’s a little test: During your next team meeting, ask your team if they can tell you your company values and mission, and vision without looking them up.

If they can’t, you know there’s work to do. Don’t get discouraged. When this exercise is conducted at major companies, often the executive leadership team can’t fully state the mission, vision, or values.

When mission, vision, and values aren’t owned or shared, your team will move in a thousand different directions.

If you would like to see the simple 3-step process I use to create better cultural value statements, you can find it here.  Defining your values is the first step to having your team own them.

2. You don’t have a clear strategy

Mission, vision, and values have a long shelf life.

Strategy, not so much. And that’s critical because your strategy is how you plan to accomplish your mission.

Here’s an example that’s probably fresh on everybody’s mind: For almost every organization, COVID threw a wrench (or nuclear bomb) into strategy. And a return to your old strategy likely didn’t work.

As much as you didn’t have certainty during that season, it was vital to have clarity.

Part of my strategy before the pandemic was speaking at live conferences and events. When COVID shut down travel, my team and I pivoted overnight to become a 100% digital company for the indefinite future. Churches moved online. Restaurants moved to takeout and outside patios.

The mission stays the same. Strategy changes.

In fact, in times of rapid change, quick pivots in strategy preserve the mission.

If you haven’t clarified your strategy recently (even if it’s a strategy for the next 30 days), do it.

No team can own what it doesn’t understand.

3. You don’t have a clear goal

Once you decide how you are going to accomplish your mission, you need to decide how much. 

A lot of leaders naturally answer that question by telling their teams what they want is ‘more’—more people, more giving, more outreach, more sales, more clients.

Having more as a goal demotivates your team, largely because you’ll never hit it.

You can’t hit more.

Eventually, your team feels like the kid who brings home a straight-A report card, only to have the parent say “Why not A+?” And returning next semester with an A+ hears, “What happened to the bonus marks?”

Who doesn’t want to quit in that environment?

So, define it. What does more look like?

1 person? 100 people? 2% growth? 20 growth%? 200 growth%?

Then when you hit it, celebrate it.

4. You’re focusing on lag measures, not lead measures

Most leaders spend the majority of their time focusing on measures that they have no control over—lag measures.

Lag measures include last week’s attendance, last month’s giving, yesterday’s sales, and last year’s growth. Most leaders get the numbers, feel they’re not quite good enough, and tell their teams to do better.

The problem is that while these measures are great for telling you how your organization has done or is doing, you can’t change them. They’re history.

A better option is to look at lead measures. Lead measures are things that you can control that ultimately impact the lag measures.

Lead measures might include focusing on the number of first-time guests instead of just attendance, turning first-time guests into second-time guests, or changing the digital giving options to make it easier for someone to give.

Your team will never crush its goals if they’re focused on what it can’t change instead of what it can change.

5. You don’t hold anyone accountable

Of all of the things on this list, this is the one that’s the hardest for most leaders but also gives the biggest return. I know, because I’ve been on both sides of the challenge—not wanting to hold people accountable (and doing it poorly), and then learning how to do it well.

When a team member misses a goal, leaders utter two phrases that create a complete lack of accountability.

  • “That’s okay.”

No, it’s not ok that they missed the deadline and the rest of the team didn’t. Stop acting like it is.

  • _________ (silence)

Many leaders don’t say a thing when someone missed their goals, because they didn’t know, didn’t care, or were too afraid.

Both are deadly.

Ironically, holding people accountable in a healthy way motivates people rather than demotivates them. And your best leaders love teams that are accountable. They want to make progress.  I’ll have more to say about that in a future post.

Leaders who fail to hold team members accountable always end up with inferior teams because the best leaders leave.