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Developing capacity comes from commitment

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. At the time he made that commitment, no American had even orbited the earth. We had no idea of what it would take to make good on that promise. Yet on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon’s surface and fulfilled Kennedy’s promise.

I bet when Kennedy was planning that speech there were a whole bunch of nay-sayers in his cabinet. “There’s no WAY we can do that. We’re not ready…How much is it going to cost?…” and on, and on. Do you hear this stuff from your team when you make bold commitments?

This is what leaders DO. We make unreasonable demands and then we ask the team to figure out how to accomplish it. If we commit to something—and if it’s truly the company’s #1 goal—something amazing happens. The capacity of the company grows to meet that commitment. Here’s another, less grandiose example from a conversation I had last month:

“I’m just not sure how to do it, Brad. Should I work on the presentation? Or find the right software? How do I get started using webinars to demonstrate my expertise and generate leads?”

“You just get started.” I replied. “Pick a date and a topic, put up a sign up page on your website and then you will figure it out!”

We want everything to be ready (more like perfect), before we commit. That’s why kids stand at the end of diving boards; and why grown-ups hover their fingers over the “send” button in their email programs. We want a guarantee that there are no mistakes, no glitches. We want to know what we don’t know. But that’s not how the world works. When it comes to any worthwhile endeavor, we never feel ready!

We never have everything we need. Progress is made when we decide to proceed anyway.

So what does this mean? Can we, like Kennedy, simply “proclaim” our way into a new reality? “We are going to double sales, and triple profits this month!”

No, you can’t just “name it and claim it”; this is not some kind of ”Law of Attraction” magic. You actually do need to consider the capacity and capability of your team. You may be forcing them into some uncharted territory and making folks uncomfortable—and that’s fine. It’s OK to create tension, but you have to keep them “in” it. Everyone has to believe it’s possible (even if it’s a big stretch). If what is needed is ingenuity, inventiveness, focus and hard work, then make a big commitment and watch your team rise to the occasion. If what is needed borders on the miraculous, or requires time travel, then you may be reaching too far.

How do we know that our BHAG is likely to motivate our team?

1. Is it Inspiring?

Sending a man to the moon was more than just something that Kennedy wanted, it was something the whole country wanted. Setting the goal challenged the country to lead in an area where we lagged. It offered a chance to re-create our image on the world stage. It appealed to the country’s ego and pride. It was a new frontier where we had a chance to be first. It inspired people to act!

2. Is it Compelling?

“A man on the moon by the end of the decade” has urgency, it demands action. We know that if we’re serious about getting there that something needs to be done, and soon. By making that goal a priority, Kennedy cleared the way to improve science education, fund NASA, and commit real resources to reaching that goal. Just taking the first step demanded that the bar be raised in so many different places.

When you talk to your team about your goals, do you see them leaning forward? Are they itching to get started, or are they discouraged and overwhelmed? Do they feel like they have the time, energy and other resources they need?

3. What’s in it for me?

Too often BHAGs are totally self-oriented. “Double sales, and triple profits” doesn’t do too much for anyone’s heart, soul or self-concept. There’s got to be a clear WIIFM component. How does this goal make people feel? Can they brag about it to their family and friends? Will it lift the profile of the whole organization, benefit the community, or open up new opportunities? Now you’ve got something!

So where are you holding back because you “don’t know how to do it”? Where are you waiting to get things perfect before you start? Stop right now and think about how you can increase your commitment to that thing. How can you set a public deadline and get started? Do it today, before you look at your email, before you check social media, before you get up and get a snack.

Do it. Do it now!

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