SMART or SAFE? Setting Goals and the Leadership Brain

Goal setting is vital to the success of every team – and the process also increases brain performance. According to neuroscience consultant Marilee Sprenger in ” The Leadership Brain for Dummies,” the brain sees goal-setting as an extension of itself – it takes ownership of the goal and the accomplishment.

But what do you do when your team has different kinds of “brains” trying to set goals? Could it be that you need to consider two kinds of goals?

The SMART approach to goal-setting is linear, logical, and very left-brain oriented. Those teams that think in a left-brained format appreciate this type of goal setting because it is easy to track and measure. SMART goals are:

  • Specific – each goal specifies your target exactly.
  • Measurable – each goal must be measurable so you know when you’ve reached it – or not.
  • Achievable – a goal that is within reach increases motivation and those brain chemicals that keep you motivate.
  • Realistic – a realistic goal is one your team has the resources to realize.
  • Time – specific time frames provide clear deadlines for action.

But what about teams that aren’t as left-brained? How do they set goals? Consider SAFE goals. Approaching goals in a nonlinear manner appeals more to the right hemisphere of the brain. If your team members are creative, visual, and right-brain dominant, consider SAFE goals:

  • See it – see yourself working toward the goal; then picture it already achieved.
  • Accept it – accept that you can achieve the goal, and picture what that looks like.
  • Feel it – adding emotion to your visualization is very powerful: feel good about your accomplishment; enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.
  • Express it – visualize yourself telling others about the accomplishment of the goal; make presentations at team meetings about your contribution to the success.

The SAFE method is especially good for those brains that need to have the big picture in order to accept the fact that they can in fact accomplish their goals.

So, does your team need SMART or SAFE goals? Or a combination of both?

As leader, it’s your job to know the difference and lead accordingly!

Next: Bridging the Digital Divide


inspired by The Leadership Brain for Dummies, by Marilee Sprenger

Leadership Brain for Dummies

The Basic Four of Leadership: # 1 – Goal Setting

A 200,000-person study by the Jackson Organization confirmed that managers who achieve enhanced business results are significantly more likely to be seen by their employees as strong in the Basic Four areas of leadership:

  • Goal Setting

  • Communication

  • Trust

  • Accountability

Authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton used that study as a foundation in their book The Carrot Principle, adding on the accelerator of frequent and effective recognition to illustrate that the relationship between recognition and improved business results is both highly predictable and proven to work.

As in all good things, you must start with the basics.

Setting Clear Goals

The work life of many employees today is seen as a meaningless task with no end in sight. Too many organizations are operating in a vacuum where team members and even their leaders have no idea what is valued. Deprived of direction, team members coast along, getting nowhere fast.

Whoa – did those words just describe the organization that you are a part of? GASP – even your church?

It doesn’t have to be that way.

While leaders cannot often change the tasks in their organizations, they can change team members’ attitudes toward those tasks by setting clear team goals. Be defining the purpose of a task and tying it to a desirable end result, effective leaders infuse work with meaning and purpose. The task remains the same, but its significance in team members’ minds skyrockets.

Great leaders infuse their team with a clear sense of purpose. They not only explain the mission to the organization in terms of serving others, acting with integrity, being the best in their category, and so on, but how that grand, overarching mission applies to specific goals for their team and each individual’s daily work.

Teams need clarity from their leaders: clarity of goals, clarity of progress, and clarity of success. Leaders who provide clarity set an optimistic tone for the future.

A leader has to focus every day on gaining alignment with what matters most to the organization. Achieving goals should be noticed and rewarded while variances from the mission and values should necessitate quick action.

Goal setting may seem to be a basic management skill, but it is rare to find a manager who does this effectively. If you were to think back to an effective manager or leader you’ve had in the past, chances are they not only helped you understand the direction of the team, but how you as an individual contribute to that direction.

The power of a clearly communicated goal is amazing. Cultures around the world from all time periods have created epic myths about journeys through danger, despair, and ultimately, triumph. What makes the journey and its trials worthwhile is the hero’s noble purpose – his goal. Those stories live on today…

Isn’t it time for you to create an amazing legend of your purpose (goal) that permeates deeply within and through every member of your team?

Next: The Basic Four – Communication

Adapted from The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Part 2 of a series

Part 1