4 min read

Personal Leadership Development Planning: Stretch Goals Part 2

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In this recent post, I gave an overview about stretch goals, what they are and how they can accelerate the development of a leader striving to advance. Here is how to add stretch goals into your personal leadership development plan.

This post focuses on the unique challenges associated with working on stretch goals that need to be taken into consideration to set your rising leader up to succeed in this kind of learning.  They can be trickier than you think.

There Are Special Challenges with Stretch Goals:

They Test Your Beliefs

Stretch goals present a test to one’s abilities and because of their high level of difficulty and complexity, the possibility of failure is always lurking in the background.  Like the favorite childhood story about the little train whose mantra was, “I think I can, I think I can.”

Researcher Carol Dweck has been showing dramatic results in the role a growth mindset has in learning.  She defines a growth mindset as a belief that you can learn even if it takes a big effort, and that with more investment you can improve.  A belief that you can develop the skills you need to grow are keys to succeeding with stretch goals. 

One of my past clients has a made a career out of seeking and tackling stretch assignments such as challenging his manufacturing company to convert from traditional to lean manufacturing.  His belief in his ability to grow, learn and take the manufacturing process to state of the art processes was acknowledged by top management to be the key to the transformation the company sorely needed to stay competitive.  

He cultivated a growth mindset throughout the organization.  His email tag line for 15 years has been the saying, “When you’re through growing, you’re through.” 

Alternatively, a fixed mindset is when you believe you either are or aren’t good at something, based on your inherent nature, because it’s just who you are.  


  • fixed mindset: doing work you know well is how you keep up your confidence.
  • growth mindset:  pushing into new and unfamiliar assignments is how you keep up your confidence;  always making sure you’re learning.
  • fixed mindset:  failure defines you  You don’t want to reveal your flaws so you’re not judged or labeled a failure.
  • growth mindset:  failures are temporary setbacks. You know you aren’t perfect and improvement is just part of your routine TO-DO list.
  • fixed mindset: it’s all about the outcome. If you fail, you think all effort was wasted.
  • growth mindset: you are committed to the process, not attached to the outcomes.

Check this Ted Talk out if you want ideas for how to foster a growth mindset in yourself and your team.

Create An Engagement Dilemma:

Because stretch goals are typically not quick fixes, the results take a while to accomplish.  It took 3 years to for my client to establish lean manufacturing companywide.  Distance to the outcomes creates challenges because our brain processes short distance vs. long distance thinking in two different areas.  The further away a goal is, the more abstract it seems.  The here and now gets the brain’s attention far more concretely.  Results we can impact in the here and now are more rewarding to the brain while we check tasks off of our to-do list, than focusing on a lofty goal off in the distant future that may not even seem attainable.  

Since using a stretch project to accelerate a leader’s development means doing this on top of their regular job with unforgiving demands, there is a lot of tension between where to focus and how to fit both short and long term goals in.  Rather than being inspired to be in a growth experience, this tension can easily lead to stress and disengagement which are anything but helpful learning conditions.  And if your stretch goal includes other people, you have their disengagement to also manage.  Both are challenges my client experienced extensively during his lean manufacturing journey.

Tips For How to Create and Execute on Stretch Goals 

  1. Plan for obstacles:

      They are inevitable so the more you rehearse how to handle them ahead of time, the better equipped you will be to solve them. 
  2. Make Actions Bite size:

      implement effective and small actions that accumulate toward the stretch goal.  A proven strategy from brain science is called Implementation intentionsThese are if-then plans that spell out in advance how one wants to strive for a set goal.  You are equipping yourself with small, intentional steps you could take to further your goal and tucks them away in your short term memory for easy access.
  3. Celebrate small steps:

      You may not master all you strive to learn at once, but you are still learning which is the main purpose of using a stretch goal as a development strategy. 

There are more pros and cons to stretch goals than I’ve begun to tackle here.  Here are two additional resources to help you get more insight into the ups (To Grow Your People, Stretch Them) and downs (The Folly of Stretch Goals) of them.   There are indeed both.  

Working on a goal that seems darn near impossible is not the ideal way to develop all your talent.  For my manufacturing client, it was ideal.  It gave him a reason to get him out of bed every day for several years and his successful learning and results were key to his promotion from Plant Manager to Vice President of Manufacturing.  

I’ve worked with some clients where the stretch project almost sunk their ship.  Either way, having a chance to put new leadership skills to practice on a real world challenge of some scale of difficulty is a practice worth checking into. 

Would you try Stretch Goals in your business have accelerated leadership development? Tell us below!

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