Smart Student Leaders Use the SMART Goals System

Goals are important to organizations—indeed, they’re what set one student group apart from another.  But there is a difference between smart goals and not-so-smart ones, too.  Smart goals are exactly that, SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timed.

Smart goals are specific

When your organization’s meeting comes to a close, and your members head back to their dorms, brush their teeth, and go to sleep with dozens of competing versions in mind for what your group has planned, this means one thing: you have a problem.  Don’t micromanage your group, but also make certain that everybody understands your organization’s goals.  When setting your goals, put them somewhere in writing.  This will protect you from relying on vague phrases and clichéd terms—“foster,” “promote,” “act,” “better,” “stronger”—and instead settle on clearly defined terms for engagement.

Smart goals are measurable

One way to be specific in your goal is to use numbers.  When there is a number attached to a goal—raising $10,000, earning 500 Twitter followers, getting 100 people to attend—it will be clearer to your student organization what scale of action will be necessary.  Perhaps most important, you’ll know without any doubt whether you succeeded, and whether your goal was effective in the first place.

Smart goals are action-oriented

While it’s not always possible to predict your success—truth be told, much of our growth as leaders comes from failure, not from success—it is possible, if you set goals based on specific actions, to hold yourself and your members accountable for these specific actions.  Action-oriented goals work because they’re the easiest way of holding members accountable, but they also work because draw from our other two criteria so far.  When you administer specific actions to your members, draw from the other two criteria: is the action specific?  Is it measurable?

Smart goals are realistic

In student organizations, too often we take “realistic” to mean “we really can’t do that much.”  Don’t fall into that trap.  You and your organization are capable of many goals—the only catch is that you must settle upon a goal together.  If you and one or two others are the only ones making the commitment, this could mean that the commitment was too much for the other members.  Collaborate on your goals so that it’s something each member feels empowered in achieving.

Remember opportunity costs, that thing you learned about in Economics 101?  Yes, we get it—you probably thought you would never put it to work, but we’ve got news for you: it’s an inherent part of setting realistic goals. Discuss it with your group.  “If we decide on this goal, what are we possibly giving up?”

Smart goals are timed

Without a clear schedule and defined deadline, the odds are your goals will languish.  While college provides you with a wonderfully high-energy environment, it is also full of distractions that you and your organization must compete with.  Having specific deadlines for each of your goals will make the dividing line between victory and failure that much more apparent.

Making SMARTer leaders

One crucial feature of the SMART goals system is that it pushes you, the leader, to think and reflect more carefully upon the goals you create with your organization.  Can you recall a time in the past when your goals fell flat?  What mistakes did your organization make that you can learn from?  If you were to do it over, what would you have done differently when it came to establishing your goals?

Keep your previous experiences in mind when making goals with the SMART goals system, and you’ll be well on the way to making decisions more carefully.

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