Goal-setting and decisions


Napoleon Bonaparte wrote “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious and exciting, than to be able to decide”.

Decision could be classified as critical, important and common, according to effect that they will have. Taking decision is something natural in our life, and most of our decisions come from an intuitive side. These kinds of decisions are relatively easy to take and predict, they are based on general common rules instead that they could significantly change between individuals because his/her background and current context (e.g.: cultural, religions, weather were the person live, etc).

When these rules become not at all general and they are bounded by both internal and external factors, the decisions are more difficult to take and predict (e.g.: buy a house, run or scream, etc). At this point, the decisions, outcomes and consequences will differ, and we start to deal with the concept of good or bad decision (and all the fuzzy spectrum in between).

But when the decision should be taken based on abstract concepts, in a deep understanding and conceptualization of the problem, in a deep analysis of many variables, etc, to take a decision becomes difficult. Under this situation, to take good decisions all time (although they are not the better) could be considered a virtue, a gift.

Finally, if we add one more variable (or variables considering different timeframes) that it is the future in the consideration, the decision making process become very difficult. And know, many aspects of the person since natal skill till education and trying will affect on the efficacy of the decision making process.

I remember a Bill Clinton's assistant comment about one of the processes that Mr. Clinton had developed to facilitate his decision making process: to resolve word-cross problems during his trip in helicopter to the White House. Mr. Clinton argued that he trained and maintained lubricated his brain making it.


To take a decision could have a huge impact in our lives, it could give us a lot of control on our lives. So, the first understanding of the decision making process should be how much to take the decision could affect our lives. This understanding is essential trying to take the optimal decision and having control of what is happening and what it will happen.


For a leader, to take decision requires a cognitive understanding of the current state, the future state where s/he wants to move on, the variables that they affect this movement and how with the decision will affect this trip. The output effect could be represented in many variables (e.g.: time, money, person killed, increased percentage in poverty, financial solvency, increase in market share, revenue, employment, etc) as well as the variables that they must be taken into consideration (e.g.: inflation, cost of material, money exchange, public acceptance, etc). Louis Pasteur wrote “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”


Sigmund Freud wrote “when making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”. This Freud’s understanding of the decision making process is aligned with the self-awareness, self-knowledge, values, vision and philosophy that a leader should understand and proceed. Thus, after this complete self-knowledge, the decision making process emerge as the base of this cognitive and unconscious stage.


The process that the leader should follow in making decisions should be supported by a clear understanding of the route where s/he wants to lead on. To elaborate this understanding, the leader must have resolved and clarified her/his values, personal philosophy leadership, vision, and set the goals under her/his leadership. The decision process involves four different stages; the first one is the understanding of the problem; the second stage is the elaboration of the analytic model that it allows to fit the problem with the leader’s values, vision, etc; the third stage is the finding of the potential solutions for this model and the fourth stage is the communication and execution of the mechanisms that they allow to implement the decision.


Goals are a powerful multi-tool for leaders. They promote many behaviors and values such as self-awareness, self-control, motivation, alignment, efficiency, higher performance, communication, challenge people, etc.


Goal-setting positively affects the leader’s analytic strategy and performance; the type of leadership has an important incidence in the goal-setting and the participation, energy and commitment put into place to achieve them. These goals help to establish boundary conditions in the improvement of the leadership performance and decision taking process.


The goal setting process has a relationship with the idea of alignment to the leader vision. Once the leader establish her/his parameter and philosophy of leadership, s/he should define the goals for achieving the different stages of the way that the leader has define as steps which they allow to move in the direction that the vision has settled. In addition, the goal setting-process allows to the leader to develop a mental imagery process that enrich the inherent self-awareness leadership process. It provides an illustration of the effect of the goals in the leadership framework context that add value to the self-discussion process that the leader should develop.


The goal setting process has a strong relationship with the concept of self-regulation and self-control. It is a powerful tool for the leader as permanent feedback of the leadership process. The achievement or not the goals permits to establish a control process for taking action according to the deviation of the traced path. People/employees could participate of this process increasing the alignment of them to the leader philosophy. Here, the leader could take the advantage of this brainstorming process to emphasize and motivate people/employees as well as many other leadership characteristics such as lead by example, communication, etc.


Goals are considered to be major variable affecting and modifying behavior through motivation. People show a better and aligned behaviour when they know, understand and agree with the set goals. Also, goals can be used to introduce changes; changes that could represent real challenges to people, and a tool rewarding employee performance in business leadership.


In the case of identity-related behavior, however, the rewarding is likely to focus on organization/group commitment rather than on the actual results, thus emphasizing social cohesion (e.g., see Lincoln, 1989; Ouchi, 1981). For value-related behavior, the reward (or at least the most motivating part of it) comes from the satisfaction with the effort and from the enhanced congruence between values and behavior (cf. Bandura, 1977; O’Reilly & Chatman, 1986; Shamir, 1991). In the U.S. case, the first phase clearly rewarded (good) results, whereas the second phase was more oriented towards giving employees intrinsic satisfaction with their work, not the least by having a say about how their work was routinely performed.





Hannah, S., Avolio, B., Luthans, F. and Harms, P. (2008) Leadership efficacy: Review and future directions. The Leadership Quarterly Vol. 19. pp.  669–692


Kouzes, J., and Posner, B. (2007). The Leadership Challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Liisa Wikangas, L., and Okumura, A. (1997) Why do people follow leaders? A study of U.S. and a Japanese change program. Leadership Quarterly, Vol. 8.  pp. 313-337.


Neck, C. Nouri, H., and Godwin, J. (2003). How self-leadership affects the goal-setting process . Human Resource Management Review Vol. 13. pp. 691–707