What’s big, hairy and audacious?


It’s something us coaches do love to bang on about 😊 But for good reason, I would say!

Why? I think it’s summed up well by coaching guru Sir John Whitmore: “When I want to, I perform better than when I have to”.  

Having a goal is so important, otherwise it’s easy to find ourselves drifting. How do you make a plan, if you’re unclear on what outcome you’re seeking? How do you know if you’re ‘on track’, if you don’t know what you’re actually aiming for? How do you properly motivate yourself, if you’re not sure what the end-game is?

Now, bazillions of articles, TED talks, books and so on have been written about the benefits of goal setting. But in this column, I want to talk about a specific type of goal – the big hairy audacious goal.

Let’s Get Big and Hairy

Big, hairy audacious goals (or BHAGs) are typically associated with businesses. The phrase was coined by Jim Collins & Jerry Porras in their book ‘Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies’ to describe a clear and compelling target for a company to aim for; something that everyone in the company can understand and get behind.  But I love the idea of a personal big hairy audacious goal and don’t see why we can’t have one for ourselves as individuals!

So what is a BHAG?

First up, it’s not a short term thing – it’s not about what you’re trying to achieve next month, or even in the next 12 months. It’s something that could be 10-15 years down the line.

It’s a biggie, a really juicy long term life goal; almost like a personal mission statement. It’s something to hang onto when making decisions or if you hit a patch where you need to reset and recalibrate your compass a little bit.

So do you have a BHAG of your own? A good BHAG should be:

  • Big!! Giant goals = giant motivation 😊
  • One that really excites you, really reflects who you are and what you want. Does it connect to your head AND your heart?
  • One that is bold, feels like a stretch, but isn’t unrealistic
  • One that is clear and that you can articulate in just a sentence
  • One that you are motivated to throw all your energy into
  • One where you can clearly visualise the result

But here are a few watchouts (so you don’t accidently score an own goal):

  • Make sure it’s your own, and not someone else’s. It’s totally counterproductive to create a goal around what you ‘should’ do, or to meet others’ expectations. Your goal has to be about what you want.
  • Keep a positive focus – “I will…” is infinitely more motivating than “I will not…”
  • And remember – if a goal is totally unrealistic, there’s no hope, but if it’s not challenging, there’s no motivation. So make sure you find the right balance.

Fly Me to the Moon?

An often quoted example of a galvanizing BHAG is President Kennedy’s 1961 declaration of the goal to land a man on the moon (and returning him safely home) before the end of the 60s. Is it big? You could say that! Exciting? For most people, probably. Clearly articulated? Tick. Easy to visualise? Definitely!

I’m not suggesting your goal equates to going to the moon – after all, that’s something that involved thousands of players, incredible resources and huge sums of money. But hopefully you get the picture – it’s about aiming high!

What I really love about the concept of a personal BHAG is actually the long-termness of it, which for me is quite liberating. You don’t have to work out every detail of how you’ll achieve it right now – that would be almost impossible, (and even dare I say, a bit boring) given the twists and turns life can serve us. But keep it in your mind, as your north star, and check in along the way that the decisions you’re making are still serving you well when it comes to your big hairy goal.

If you don’t have one, have a go at creating one – it’s so motivating to have something to work towards!