Setting Goals: How To Inspire And Achieve With SMART And WISE Goals

Originally published
Originally published: 1/1/2012

Use concrete planning, but also leave room for inspiration.

As a leader, you’re used to setting goals. But are the goals you’re setting really as powerful as they could be?

Goals help us to cut through the clutter of a crowded mind and keep our thoughts on the things that matter most. They help us to focus. To be effective, you can’t set random goals — long lists of wishes that eventually fall away. You need to be smarter than that. Wiser.

In the business world, we’ve been trained to set SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action-Oriented
  • Realistic, and
  • Time-Bound.

“SMART” goals have helped many people to move from vague unattainable goals to clear, specific action. You might want to use this standard to transform your commitments into powerful goals.

Here are some examples of SMART goals that meet all of these criteria. Here’s how you might use a SMART goal at work: Schedule (an action-oriented verb) team-building and strategic planning off-site (specific activities) by end of January (a time-bound date that is realistic and measurable).

You can also use SMART goals to help to integrate your work and home lives to find better balance: Leave work (a specific, action-oriented verb) by 6 p.m. three times a week (a time-bound commitment that is realistic and measurable).

SMART goals are just as helpful in your personal life: Go on a date with my spouse (a specific, action-oriented verb) at least twice a month (a time-bound commitment that is realistic and measurable).

All of these goals illustrate how the SMART criteria get you to be very concrete about your goals, which makes them easier to attain.

The problem with SMART thinking is that it has a tendency to limit instead of inspire. SMART goals can work against you if:

  • You neglect to write them and keep them fresh.
  • They’re isolated from other important parts of your life.
  • They conflict or compete.
  • They lack spirit and conviction.

To avoid these pitfalls, make sure your goals are both SMART and WISE.

What Are WISE Goals?

WISE stands for:

  • Written 
  • Integrated 
  • Synergistic, and 
  • Expansive.

Using these criteria to improve your goals will transform them into a more powerful approach to achievement.

Written: Writing your goals is a critical step — and one many people miss. Writing forces you to be clear in your thinking. It allows you to look at your plans with objectivity. It instills commitment and puts your thoughts in a durable form you can revisit again and again.

Integrated: Integrating your ideas means bringing them together in the same place so you can look at them all at once. Allow your personal and professional lives to intermingle. It’s O.K. if right under “increase profit share” you have “get more rest.” They both improve your quality of life. They both contribute to your definition of success. You get to have it all. There are no rules. You make it up.

Synergistic: Whereas integrating your goals means bringing them together, synergizing means making them work together. Synergy happens when one idea advances another. Keeping a vision of what you want in mind when you think about your goals will help to create that synergy. You really lose something when you decouple your goals from your vision; they become just another priori- tized list.

The most powerful and peaceful way to think about your efforts is to see how they can coalesce into one complete vision for your life.

Expansive: Think big. Your goals should inspire you to stay on the path to your dreams, not lock you into a pattern of ticking off bite-sized action items from here to retirement.

This may be the biggest differentiator between SMART and WISE thinking. Spending too much time and energy boxing your objectives into a hard and fast formula can squeeze the life right out of them. Some examples:
1. SMART goal: Schedule team-building and strategic planning off-site by end of January. WISE goal: Transform my staff into a team of inspired, empowered partners.
2. SMART goal: Leave work by 6 p.m. three times a week, organize my of- fice, and work with my assistant to find new planning system within one month from today. WISE goal: Feel in control of my life.
3. SMART goal: Go on a date with my spouse at least twice a month and tell him/her why I appreciate him/her at least once a day starting Aug. 3. WISE goal: Fall in love again.
The best goals are both “smart” and “wise.” SMART thinking gives your goals specificity. WISE thinking gives them heart.

Every good leader has goals. Your goals will help you stay on track to achieving your bigger vision day after day, and the “SMARTer” they are, the more productive you’ll be. However, make sure that your goals also are WISE enough to inspire you, excite you, and move you in new and exciting ways. You will find you don’t just meet your goals; they’ll actually better you.

Joelle K. Jay, Ph.D., is an executive coach specializing in leadership development and the author of The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership. Her newsletter, The Inner Edge Quarterly, offers articles, exercises, tips, quotes, and success stories from real leaders to help you excel. To register, please visit and click on Newsletter, or email

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