WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- When goals are mentioned at this time of year, most people think of hockey or football games, or maybe even dreaming up a New Year's resolution. So why do we even need goals? Why should we write them down? Goals are things you want to accomplish sometime in the future. Goals are great -- they motivate you toward accomplishing a dream or an achievement, but in more cases than none, goals will just remain dreams if you don't define some objectives to reach them.
Goals lay the basic framework that helps guide you toward things you want to do, know you should do or are influenced to do. Great leaders got to where they are by developing structured goals, not by "flying by the seat of their pants." Leaders need to assist subordinates in creating a set of goals and milestones (both personal and professional) and frequently follow up to assess their progress, providing a little nudge if they're falling behind. As former First Lady Rosalynn Carter once said, "A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be."
Most new Airmen have an idea what they want to achieve in their careers, whether it's earning their degree before they separate or ultimately being promoted to chief master sergeant or colonel. But, there are many steps between becoming a newly minted airman first class and achieving those higher ranks. These goals are achievable with a well-thought-out plan and realistic milestones.
Goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. One goal we should all strive to achieve is to be physically fit so we can pass our Air Force Fitness Assessment. This is a very broad goal and needs to be broken down into more specific, measurable objectives, such as working out a minimum of three times a week, decreasing your mile-and-a-half run time by 20 seconds each month, or increasing the number of push-ups you can do by five every month. That said, you can't create your fitness goals two weeks prior to your fitness assessment and expect a miracle to happen. Goals should be developed well in advance of your expected outcome and continually reviewed to ensure you're meeting expectations.
Creating realistic short-term, progressive goals provide mini-steps of accomplishment, which boost motivation to tackle the next challenge and keep you on the path to success. Long-term goals can seem so far off (20 years or more) that if you don't break them down into smaller objectives, it will seem like they're never achievable. A great short-term goal may be to achieve a 90 percent on a career development course end-of-course (EOC) test. But, even to achieve this short-term goal you have to develop some objectives (finish each volume within 30 days; study one hour per night until EOC test date, etc.). Regardless of what the goals are, writing them down and periodically reviewing them will ensure you stay on-track. You may even find that you have to adjust your goals as time progresses. For instance, my long-term goals as a new Airman were to make master sergeant and earn a bachelor's degree by the time I reached 20 years in the Air Force. I ended up making master sergeant before 20 years and it took me 15 years to earn my bachelor's degree, so I ended up adjusting my long-term goal to making chief master sergeant and earning a master's degree by my 20-year mark.
Make sure goals are obtainable and don't be afraid to adjust them due to unforeseen circumstances. But, try not to make excuses or get lazy on yourself. If your goals were important enough to write down, then they are important enough to stick to. Don't make goals so lofty that you'll de-motivate yourself if you fall behind. And, don't make them so easy that they take no effort to achieve. Make realistic, achievable goals to start off with and if you reach a goal earlier than expected, focus your energy on your next goal or milestone. Kurt Lewin, universally recognized as the founder of modern social psychology, once stated, "A successful individual typically sets his next goal somewhat but not too much above his last achievement. In this way he steadily raises his level of aspiration."
You can see how easy it is to come up with a list of goals and milestones; the hard part is sticking to them and reviewing them often to stay on track. But, it's hard to stick to a plan or even adjust it along the way if you never had one in the first place. Don't be that Airman who never plans for the future, or the one who "flies by the seat of his pants." Whether your goals are to make the next promotion, earn your Community College of the Air Force degree or commit to a New Year's resolution, develop a plan and stick to it.