Leader's Forum: Following five simple steps can help everyone achieve goals

  • Published
  • By Col. Colin Miller
  • 412th Operations Group commander

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
Alice: ...so long as I get somewhere.
The Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

From "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll

How do you reach your goals? As a commander, I routinely enjoy the awesome opportunity to help folks reach their goals, both professional and personal. Over the years, I've developed a simple recipe for success.

Step 1: Define the Goal! No matter how hard you work or how talented you are, you are unlikely to meet your goals if you don't define them, and by define them I mean write them down. Stephen Covey, one of my favorite authors, counsels, "Begin with the end in mind, you do not want to spend your effort climbing a ladder, only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall!" How do you define your goals? Professionally, I recommend two things: pursue your passion, and follow your principles. It is said that if you love your job, you never work a day in your life, so go do what you love! What do you daydream about? What do you read? How do you spend your free time? Answers to these questions will help you determine what you are passionate about. Equally important, though, is to follow your principles - the things that make you tick. How do you want to contribute to your family, your country, the world with the talents and energy you have been given? I believe that aligning oneself with the answers to these questions is critical to happiness and success.

Step 2: Assess your current status relative to your goal. Ok - here's where reality sets in. Make an honest assessment of where you are relative to your goal. Maybe you are a squadron director of operations, with a goal of being a squadron commander. Maybe you are an airman first class with the goal of being a wing commander. Or perhaps you are a new engineer who'd like to be the technical director of a combined test force. No matter where you are, it is critical to accurately assess your status relative to your goal. We now have the end points defined.

Step 3: Connect the Dots. Step 3 is absolutely critical and involves determining what is required to get you from where you are to where you want to go. And it requires research. Start by perusing the biographies of folks that have met your goal - how did they get there? Consult Air Force Personnel Center resources, career path guides, seek out a mentor who has been successful in your area of interest, talk to your supervisor or commander. Be aggressive and be diligent, then write out on a piece of paper what steps you need to take (with a timeline) to meet your goal.

Step 4: Commit. I am a firm believer that anyone can do anything they want to do if they are willing to work hard enough. However, we all have certain talents and experience - certain things are easier for some than others. The pilot with average "hands" can be the top UPT graduate if she works hard enough. The high school graduate working on the sales floor can be chief executive officer of a premier retail chain, and the starry-eyed grade school student can be an astronaut. It is just a matter of commitment. In step 4, you must assess what the cost will be for you personally to connect the dots. If the prize is worth the cost, make the commitment and don't look back!

Step 5: Follow Through. Once you have weighed the cost versus the benefit and decided to pursue a goal, stick with it! It will be difficult at times, and it may be tempting to give up. The difference between success and failure is staying the course.

The recipe for success I have laid out is simple and may seem obvious, but in my experience is often not followed. Most common is the absence of a guiding star - clear definition of the goal itself. Folks often ask me for advice on a particular short-term decision, and my answer is almost always, "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to." It's worth thinking about where you want to go, in your career, in your life. Then assess where you are relative to your goal, connect the dots, commit, and follow through. There is nothing you can‟t do.