A relatively newly minted public company CEO stopped by for some discussion about his and the company’s priorities and goals for the upcoming year the other day; and his visit brought to mind my own ruminations on the subject now that I am part of the HBS family.
How does a CEO think about the new year and what in that approach might be helpful for us? He structured the problem thoughtfully and logically – maybe his HBS background helped. “What is the context in terms of stakeholder expectations, challenges, available resources and top team dynamics? What are the major objectives, how should they be communicated and accomplishment measured?” And finally, “What will I need to do to achieve these goals with special emphasis on identifying and bringing real conviction to changing personal past practices that might interfere or adopting new, more effective behaviors?”
Answering these questions thoughtfully takes real time, concentration and probing. The process is also often uncomfortable, since inherent in the questions are goals of growth, accomplishment, overcoming challenge and change.
How might an HBS student approach the questions? Being clear, succinct and honest is a good start. Limiting the goals to five or less is paramount to be sure real choices are made. Giving yourself time to understand context but not time to procrastinate says the vicinity of October 1 would be a good due date. Writing the goals down, deciding how and when to measure success and having a real discussion partner all help. The big idea is to demand of yourself personal growth and the discomfort always involved in real growth, and to commit to periodic honest assessment.
A special challenge for all of us in the fascinating crossroads of the world ecosystem of HBS and the wider Harvard/Cambridge world is making real choices. The major context at HBS for many is the wonderful panoply of choice, but our extensive choice environment has a dark side. We can be so busy with so many things that little of real substance happens, and we confuse a frenetic life with growth and real accomplishment.
My advice and experience? Less can be more. Resist peer pressure and find your own path. Do things you have not done before, whether it be academic, travel, business experience, sport or really getting to know someone with a different life experience or point of view. Have the courage to go on a really demanding journey that will serve you as well as or better than any academic endeavor.
That journey is to really, really get to know yourself and how others view you as a person and aspiring leader. The most effective leaders combine infectious, joyful confidence with deep personal knowledge and true humility. This journey of self-discovery is usually uncomfortable and many avoid it.
HBS is a safe, constructive and caring place to help you start. Growth is lifelong, and is limited more by your decisions than any external factors; and growth starts by picking real, challenging and worthwhile goals that you at the conviction level truly aspire to achieve.
New beginnings – do not miss the chance.