Fifty feet up the trail and already I knew things were going to be rough. My dad turned to me and said, 'Wow, I didn't think I'd be out of breath this quickly. I need to stop for a minute.'
We were about one minute in to a 2.5 mile hike up e very steep, varying terrain to Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock, which juts out 2000 feet above the Ryfylke fjord in Norway. At 77 years old, with diabetes and a growing problem with balance, this was not going to be a walk in the park for my dad. Questioning his judgement in undertaking the challenge, but eager to help him accomplish something I knew he really wanted, I quickly offered my help. I could push/pull him up the large stones that formed a kind of staircase nearly straight up parts of the mountain. I would do whatever I could to get him up there.
Then he said something that marked the entire experience, right from the beginning. 'No, I don't want help. I want to do it myself.' At that moment something changed. Like a light switch being flipped, I went from wanting to help and support him to caring a little less about whether or not he made it all the way to the top, the ultimate goal. Now of course it was my dad so I wasn't gonna let him fail, but it got me thinking about the goals we set in our organizations and how we go about achieving them.
It seems there are two types of goals. What I'll call 'Me Goals' and 'We Goals'. Me Goals are about accomplishing something by ourselves, for ourselves. We Goals are all about working together with others we need to rely on to accomplish something that is impactful and fulfilling to all of us as a collective.
With a Me Goal, the determination and drive may be intense and very real, and if we apply ourselves, yes we'll even achieve that goal. But at what cost? If we're honest with ourselves, we can't achieve anything great alone. In this case, simply declaring that he was going to do it himself didn't stop me from catching him more times than I can remember so he wouldn't fall backward onto the sharp rocks behind him. It didn't stop me from physically supporting him the entire way down the mountain. It didn't stop me from picking him up each time he fell to his hands and knees because his legs had nothing left.
How often do we think we're 'doing it myself' when we actually have others supporting us. They may only be doing it because it's their job, which makes it feel even worse. Using others to achieve a selfish goal (especially as a leader) causes mistrust and lack of loyalty if not active disengagement and undermining.
A We Goal, on the other hand, helps to create a strong Circle of Safety (Simon Sinek). It's a goal that's important to all of us. Something we're all inspired and energized to reach together. I'll go back to the example that inspired this post. How cool would it have been for my dad to say, 'Son, this is my last trip to Norway. It's the land of my forefathers and a place that means a lot to me. One of the things on my bucket list is making this climb and I'm so glad we're doing it together. Now, I'm not as strong as I used to be so I'm going to need your help. What do you say?'
When we set We Goals, then give context, meaning and purpose to them, we inspire others to join us, to help us no matter the cost, to sacrifice of themselves for the shared vision. The reward is much more than the achievement of the goal itself. It's the bond, the relationship and the foundation that has been strengthened in preparation for the next climb.