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Never Set Goals with Leadership Engagement Expert Chad Brown

Encouraging business leaders to never set goals might seem like an unorthodox approach to running a company, but our guest Leadership Engagement Expert, Chad Brown is not your typical leadership guru...

Chad Brown

Leadership Engagement Expert

Chad works with founders and CEOs to drive growth and scale through 'no BS leadership principles' creating new, unprecedented results and fulfilment in their work.



GRAHAM: Hello everybody and welcome to this edition of The Coaching Conversation, and I'm pleased and excited to say that today I'm being joined by Chad Brown all the way from Utah, USA. Chad is a fellow coach, he has a very interesting angle on coaching. He describes himself as not a typical leadership guru, and he helps his clients who are typically business owners, business founders, and CEOs with "no-BS" leadership principles. First of all, please introduce yourself to our audience.

CHAD: Thank you so much for having me, I'm so grateful to be here. I've been working with leaders and executives, and hard-driving folks for about eight years now. That stemmed from my own experience of failing at pretty much every aspect of leadership in my own business as I built a media production company. Luckily I found somebody who was also a coach, who came in and changed my life, and I thought it was going to be a business adventure. I thought that was going to be our focus, and ultimately it was a life adventure. I'm internally grateful for that person. His name is Adrian. I now work with him day to day in our firm, Take New Ground, but so gratefully I say he saved my life. And, I say that for multiple reasons, in multiple aspects of my life. I'm a husband. I've been married 20 years next year to my beautiful wife Katie. We have three kids and they are 10, 14, and 17. Girl, girl, boy. We live in Utah, as you mentioned. We love the outdoors. We're biking, hiking, rafting, whatever we can do to get outside, that's what we're up to.

When I'm not on Zoom, living my life on Zoom with clients, I get to do what I absolutely love and have a heart for every single day. It's not easy, but it's worth it and it's exciting. So, I'm happy to jump in with you today on some of the ways that I work with executive leaders.

GRAHAM: I'd really like to start by exploring what you mean by no BS leadership principles.

CHAD: When I talk about no BS leadership principles, what I'm talking about is our way of being, and I'll come back to this probably multiple times within our conversation, but we all want; most people want mechanisms "Tell me what to do", you know? There's a place for this. There's a place for a mechanism of knowing how to do this thing such as 'How do I find the right people for my team? How do I get them to work in a way that is efficient and productive? And how do I create a culture?' All of that's fine. There's a place for that.

I'm mostly interested in what's going on for the leader internally. What is their way of being? How do they approach it? What is their perception of people, their business, the world, all of that kind of stuff? And so my questioning or my inquiry with executive leaders tends to poke at what's not being talked about. And I know that that's where the gold is - if we can get to what nobody's talking about, especially themselves, then we're striking gold because that's where change, where opportunity and possibility live.

So when I say no BS, I just mean the BS can sometimes look like some of these surface things of How do I do this? Ultimately, I believe if we can get in touch and be clear and connected to who we are and our way of being and the way we're relating to the world, then the doing just comes.

There are a million ways to skin a cat as the saying goes, and I'm saying you'll figure those out once you are clear on what's going on for you. And that's where the real stuff is.

GRAHAM: It's really interesting because, as you were explaining it, I was beginning to understand and relate to what you're trying to say. And there's no doubt that when you first start, particularly with a new client, those problems are all tangible problems 'I can't get this done. I don't know how to do that. I've got a problem with this relationship', and the client sets very obvious desires and intentions around all of that. And as a coach, you're quite right, you do inquire in such a way as you peel back the layers until you get to the root cause - one of the classic ones is imposter syndrome; why do you feel that you're not good enough? What makes you believe that? And you can keep pulling away at it until you've actually exposed it and it's a lovely foundation point to build everything else on, so I can completely agree with you.

Moving into the next unorthodox piece and the title of this week's edition of The Coaching Conversation is Never Set Goals. That's a strange concept for an executive coach because by and large, the objective of the coach is to help your client achieve some things that they've decided they want to do. So, explain to me now what 'never set goals' means for you.

CHAD: I always admit at the top of this conversation, it's somewhat of a click-bait title. I do think the way that I interact with the idea is unconventional, and I believe that it has more efficacy than the traditional idea of setting goals.

So, when we think about setting goals, so many people think about a really popular area of setting goals is New Year's resolutions, right? Well, what do we know about the efficacy of New Year's resolutions? They don't get much past the 3rd of January. In fact, it's about 21 to 22 days on average when they've done studies or they've followed people on their goals that those goals are met. So that means a large subset of those people are doing it less than 21 days, and another subset is doing it just over 21 days. So, I ask the question, why do we continue, it's like insanity, right? The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. I'm wondering why are we still setting goals the same way that we've always been setting goals when we know that it doesn't work.

So, I started thinking about this for myself. One of the places that this is most transparent for me is in physical fitness. I just think it's a very simplistic and relatable area of life that we can chat about to really illustrate this principle. What I think about is all of the times in my life when I've gone up and down and weight; when I've gone to the gym and quit, when I've decided that I was going to get fit for this race or get fit for this certain activity that I wanted to do, something like that. And then I would set a goal.

Well, what happens in our psychology when we set a goal is a couple of things. The reason that they don't work out, is maybe we reach the goal and after reaching the goal, our mind shuts off. Meaning either we've got to set another goal that feels exponentially bigger than the one that we just met, or we don't - we're so burnt out and we're so sick of doing the thing that we want to do, and we've reached the finish line that our brain says, okay, I'm done. And what happens? We go back to the place where we were. In this specific example, putting on weight, not going to the gym, feeling weak, and not doing the activities with my family that I want to do. That's one of the scenarios.

Another scenario is that we feel like we're not making progress fast enough towards the goal. So then what do we do? We don't see the possibility of reaching the goal. So we quit. We stopped doing the thing. Oh, well that wasn't working. It must be something else. Another way that we relate to that I think is that we think reaching the goal is going to give us that fulfilment that we're looking for. Like when we reach it, I'm going to be so happy and so proud and so fulfilled, and then it happens, and maybe we experience that for a day, an hour, something like that, but then we're sorely disappointed in all of the hype around this thing. Then what do we do? We don't go after anything else, or we quit, we go back to where we were.

So, there's a fundamental problem, I believe, with the general way that we relate to goals. So I started thinking for myself, well what else could it be? If it's not goal setting and goal achievement that actually creates fulfilment and lasting - and that's, that's the caveat, or that's the qualifier that I want to be very clear about - lasting results. Not one-time results. For myself, and I can speak for most of my clients and the people that I'm involved with, they want lasting results. So what is it? Well, it's discipline.

I believe it's discipline. It's not goal-setting. It's discipline. That's going to make the biggest difference over an extended period of time to create the results that we want. But most of us, especially in goal setting, don't focus on the discipline as longevity, meaning I only have to do this to get this, and then as soon as I get this, I don't have to do this any longer.

So for me, the mantra came to my mind one morning; I decided that I was going to wake up at five-thirty in the morning to get to the gym, get my day started, and get all that stuff done before the kids start getting up and the chaos of the house happens. But I didn't get out of bed. I didn't keep my agreement with myself. I didn't keep my commitment to myself. I didn't get out of bed. And this got me thinking, well, this isn't working. What's going on? The mantra came to my mind, 'Chad, you are the guy that works out five times a week no matter what for the rest of your life'. And I thought, 'Wow'. Like, it surprised me. It took me back a little bit. 'Chad, you are the guy that works out five times a week no matter what for the rest of your life'. It scared me a little bit, but also it was incredibly empowering. It was like, 'yeah, I'm the guy, actually, I'm the guy that does that'.

Then what happened is that it took it from a goal outside of myself or something that I wanted to prove to the world or prove to myself - it took it from that to a minute or an incremental discipline. Every single day I can measure it. I can measure it every week. I can know immediately whether or not I'm being the guy that I said I'm committed to being. Then I can re-up my commitment any time and every time that I notice that it's not dependent on some outcome that's out there.

So I started practising that, implementing it, and it was working. I was finding much more success in my rate of going to the gym and working out. I wasn't always going to the gym. Sometimes I went for a 40-minute walk this evening because it's towards the end of the week. I've only got four workouts. I'm disciplined. I'm committed to myself for this thing. And. I started to see real results towards what I wanted.

I started applying that principle in different areas in my work, in my marriage, in my fatherhood, and in the way that I wanted to be involved in my community. And what I started to notice is that I could live now, I could be right now, what it is, whatever it is that I want to be like, that's what matters.

I know that this can start to sound a little Guru and I don't want it to be, but I found such satisfaction and fulfilment in now. It's not about this thing that I'm going after, but now I'm keeping my commitments to myself and I'm being disciplined, and that's the most fulfilled I've ever felt.

GRAHAM: This is fascinating. I can relate largely to the sorts of things that you're talking about, especially not getting out of bed and going to the gym bit. It's a very, very in-depth piece of psychology that you are talking about here because this is mindfulness rolled into not allowing yourself to be distracted from the things that you set as priorities. if you were to take that back into a business environment, how have you seen that applied by your clients, how have they taken to this - perhaps you can give us some examples of how it works for them.

CHAD: Absolutely. I have a client who wouldn't consider themselves an alcoholic, but definitely, alcohol has affected their ability to grow their business the way that they wanted. Meaning they would have one glass of wine with dinner and then before they knew it, that turned into four or five glasses on a Wednesday night. They've got an early morning to get some things together, get their team together, all of that sort of stuff, and they're coming to it foggy and it's definitely affecting their ability to create what it is they say they're about. And they have set goals. They have counted days, and they've tried everything in order to not have this effect on the way that they're showing up in their business.

And as soon as they internalised the idea that 'I am the person who does this'. It worked. It was now the present moment for them and it was who they were and it was their commitment to themself and they got super committed to themself in each moment, and they've been very successful. They don't know how many days they've gone without a drink, but it doesn't matter because today this is their commitment to themselves. It's been amazing.

I have another client who has really struggled to implement what it takes in order to build a full pipeline of potential customers - I don't typically engage in sales jargon, but I'll use some of it because it works with a lot of people to understand what I'm talking about. He's really struggled in order to do that, and we broke it down. What actually builds a pipeline? What actually gets people going through the process that's going to lead them to buy your service? We broke that down; it's gonna need this, they're going to need this many touchpoints. It's best if we get them on the email list. I know cold emailing and calling work, but I haven't been willing to do that. Okay, great. We've got it.

We identified two disciplines. One was cold calling. One was inviting people in different ways to be on their email list. So, the discipline is to sit down for an hour and a half, cold call, cold email, whatever is working for you, whatever process you've put into place. Now, if you are the guy who does an hour and a half of cold contacting every single day, five days a week, you'll see results. Inevitably, you're going to see a result and you're going to fine-tune that and you're going to learn things about yourself and your service and how the questions that people ask and what's working and what's not working.

And we didn't focus on the sales goal. Does he have an idea of what he wants to do in revenue and new revenue and a new client? Of course, he does, but we put that aside and focus an hour and a half every single day, five days a week. It made all the difference in the world. He started to see the pipeline that he couldn't even handle.

There are so many different applications in there, but really the essence of it is so incredibly simple; you must get specific about the disciplined action it takes to get the thing that you say you want and get committed to that. Become the person who does it. Become the person that engages in that.

GRAHAM: I'm connecting the discipline piece now with the fundamental focus on the action as opposed to the outcome. I'm really understanding that. It's absolutely fascinating. Do you find that over time what they're focused on or what has become important to them changes?

CHAD: Absolutely. I mean, in some areas, right? So, back to my simple example of fitness, that's never going to change. And that's why I added to the mantra '... for the rest of my life' because I want to be active, I want to be healthy, I want to be able to go on adventures with my kids, and if I ever have grandkids, I want to be able to do that with them as well. So that's a lifelong thing. It's never going to change unless we discover some technology that allows us to be physically fit without that.

Of course, it's a constant evaluation and a constant conversation, and that's what I invite my clients to do. That's what I work to practice for myself; to be in the conversation constantly, always looking at the feedback that's available and adjusting. It's ineffective to put blinders on and say it's this thing and only this thing. Now, that can be effective for a little while because sometimes these disciplines take a little while to create some results. No problem. Decide that I'm going to do this for three, four months. That's how long it should take in order to create some results around it, and if the results aren't what I want them to be then I'll adjust my disciplines. So it's this opportunity of the world, the universe, whatever you want to call it. The people around you, your company, your spouse, and your kids; they're constantly offering you feedback about how you're doing in the thing that you say you want to do or the thing, the person you say you want to be. So, if you're paying attention, the discipline will adjust.

GRAHAM: I understand this can work socially and domestically as well as professionally. Sticking with the professional piece for a second, when clients are working with their teams, do they change the way they manage them? Do they change the dialogue or the metrics that they measure them by?

CHAD: Absolutely. One of the disciplines that are rarely practised when I start working with a client is that I'm constantly inviting my clients to practice and notice (I use the word practice a lot. I believe everything that we're doing here, this is all just practice). Practicing not mastering. We're not mastering anything we're practising because you already pointed out, the game changes and we can practice. If we practice one or if we decide to do one thing or master one thing and then we play a new team, it's going to be ineffective. It might be what was effective with one team might be very ineffective with another. So we need ongoing practice in order to do this.

One of the practices that I am constantly inviting my clients into is real-time feedback. So there's this idea that when we're working with our team, let's say we do monthly one-to-ones, and a lot of leaders buy into the idea that, well, if I've got these monthly one-to-ones set up, or these 360s; when I notice things, I'm going to store that away. For that moment when I have a one-to-one with this person, and then I'm just going to unload everything that I've been noticing along the way on this person, whether you label it good, bad, positive, negative, that's a very common mentality. I offer them the opportunity and the discipline of real-time feedback. When you notice it, it's like that saying 'That's posted'. I don't know if this is the same in the UK, but in the US on the train stations and the airports, there's this saying 'see something, say something' - it's the same thing.

It's the same thing that I encourage my clients in their leadership roles and with their people, see something, say something as close to what you see as possible, meaning real-time feedback, even if it's difficult to give at the moment. This practice, this discipline allows them to move at a much quicker pace because if you're storing up your feedback for the right moment or the formal conversation or whatever, all of that, all of what's not working and even what is working can get in the way of moving faster - all of that time you're withholding and waiting to give the feedback is slower; time slower, slower production, slower relationships, less creativity, all of that sort of stuff. So this discipline of 'give'; I am a leader who gives real-time feedback. When I see something, I say something.

GRAHAM: This is interesting. Have you found that once they've adopted this ' I am' discipline, this 'I am commitment' when they're working with their other members of the team, do they let them in on the secret? Do they share that methodology with them? And if so, does it work?

CHAD: Some explicitly and some by leadership, by example. Certainly, I get the opportunity when this starts to work for a lot of my clients, they'll bring me in to help bring it to the team, which is a really fun experience. It's part of my work that I actually love the most because I know it's where we can make the biggest difference when everybody's in on the conversation. At least the middle management up to sea level. When they're in on the conversation we can really create magic.

I talk about culture in terms of viscosity. So, when we have a low feedback culture, it's like trying to swim in peanut butter. But when we have a high feedback culture, meaning real-time feedback, being willing to say what's there, it's like swimming in water. It's a good visual to think about. I bet most people haven't swum in peanut butter, but you could imagine the difficulty of what it would be.

GRAHAM: Two things occur to me as I'm considering what you're sharing. The first thing is, if the organisation embraces this and if the leaders and the executive team embrace this, then the sky's the limit. You don't need to set a goal. You just keep doing what you need to be doing, and as you said earlier, the results will just follow. So actually saying, we're gonna double sales in the next financial year, or we're gonna have this much market share is. It is a fallacy. It's valueless in the context of what we just said.

The second thing is that if other people in the team don't share this level of discipline or aren't committed to this level of discipline, presumably they self-deselect - it's a place, it's a culture, it's an environment that they're not going to be comfortable in over time.

CHAD: That's exactly right. It's very exposing, which I see as a benefit towards what most of us want in our culture. We want people self-selecting into discipline if we want to do something meaningful together. And currently, goals can be a really good hiding place.

GRAHAM: Well, there's an interesting thought. You're going to have to explain that one.

CHAD: Well, oftentimes goals set become a low bar. And that's a perfect place to hide, right? If I'm disciplined in my work and I know it's going to take in order to move in the direction we want to move, I don't even know how good it could get. Murphy's Law says that 'the action will take the time set apart for it'. It's the same thing when we set that goal, we're saying, this is our ceiling, this is where we're willing to go. And if I look at that, if that goal is set for me, or I set it strategically.

Some people know that they can operate at 80%, especially really effective people. They know they can operate at 80%. People will think it's their 100%. So, they'll set those goals there. And I'm just saying the aims are great, and the direction is fantastic, but why not keep it open so we really don't even know how good this thing could get? And if we engage in these disciplines, we know we'll be running in the right direction.

GRAHAM: The threat would be that people will say, 'By definition you'll accept mediocrity because you're not setting goals, any outcome will do'. Do you see any of that happening?

CHAD: No, because what happens is the discipline is clear. The action, the rigour is so specific and exact that you can't hide from it. So, if I have somebody on my team, for example, and we have decided on the aim and the direction that we're headed, what's worth working for or towards? Then we break that down. And that's the value, by the way, for the aim or some people call it a goal, the value of it is that it allows you to break it down into disciplines.

So, we break that down into disciplines and now it's very visible whether or not those disciplines are being engaged in or not. There's nowhere to hide. We can have a conversation; We committed to this. You committed to this and it's not happening. What's going on? Are you okay?

GRAHAM: Can I just ask about another challenge that might occur? One of the advantages of diversity in an organisation's different ways of thinking, and different ways of doing, is that you create new ideas and you create wider appeal to a different kind of audience. Is there a danger through this process that you don't become diverse? You actually become very narrow-minded, you become super focused and therefore almost blinkered in a slightly different way.

CHAD: Maybe. I don't see how this self-selects for non-diverse cultures. I can't think of a scenario why this would encourage non-diverse thinking. Maybe I'm making some assumptions about your question, so let's just explore those. I assume by your question, that there may be a level of one person dictating the discipline or action.

In order to join our team, meaning the team in our firm, there must be a unique contribution that you bring. I believe everybody has that, but not everybody has figured out and not everybody has committed to their unique contribution. So when I come to the team and we're approaching a project and I'm going to be a part of that project, I'm the one who sets my disciplines - when I have clarity for the aim - I'm the one that sets those disciplines for myself and I declare them to the team and I get committed to them. That way I can be accountable to the team, but it's still my diverse, unique angle on the solution of the problem or my contribution to the solution.

GRAHAM: Just widening the conversation a little bit, Chad, so our audience gets a sense of place and present. Who are your typical clients and where are they?

CHAD: I answer this question in two different ways. There's the demographic, the ideal client profile for me is a company founder who has had their company for five plus years, they have a team of eight to, I think the biggest team with my clients, I think currently is about 80 employees - that's kind of the sweet spot. I really love working with founders that can affect change quickly, and that they still have an intimate relationship with the people that work with them, so that that influence when they're in the conversation with me, that influence when they go back out there is still strong.

The answer that I'm much more interested in and that I love talking about more is the founders of the leaders who are radically open, meaning they're willing to hear everything, all feedback even, and especially what they don't want to hear. And second, those who are radically transparent, the ones who are willing to say what is true for them, what is real for them, what's happening for them, what their perspective is, and especially when it's difficult to say.

When I have a prospect of a client, those are the two main filters that I'm filling out in the first couple of calls that we do together to see if this is a good fit or not. I'm gauging how open are they. How transparent are they? I don't care about the challenge that they're up against, we can deal with that. We can deal with any challenge as long as those are present.

GRAHAM: In my own experience and in our practice, it's very important that the client is prepared to make themselves vulnerable, because if they don't open themselves up, then change becomes very, very limited. And you talk about transparency; I think if clients aren't honest with you and if they aren't honest with themselves, then a lot of our work, if, if it does anything at all built on saying. I can absolutely correlate with the way you described it. I really like clients who are hungry for change. I really like clients who are aware of their frailties and, and want to do something and to some extent, don't take themselves too seriously. They realise that we're all imperfect human beings and we've all got stuff we can work on.

Chad, been really great chatting with you. I've learned a lot in this conversation, but I really appreciate you taking the time to join us. If our audience wants to reach you, where can they find you?

CHAD: We have a podcast called Naked Leadership. I really love what we're up to over there. I host it with our two founders, Dan and Adrian. I mentioned Adrian earlier - he was the coach who really saved my life, or helped me save my life. We do live coaching or we do recorded coaching calls, so you can hear what it's actually like to be in the coaching experience with real people facing real challenges, unfiltered. Some of them are anonymous, and some of them aren't depending on the challenge and the preciousness of the information that they're giving to the public. So that's really fun.

We have an episode that I typically point to people to start with, which is episode 145. It's called How We Do Confrontation? In this conversation, I do all the production and planning for the podcast, and then they show up and we engage in the conversation. I gave them a topic of what we were going to talk about, and then when we got on, I pulled a quick one on them. I said, Hey, look, actually there's something, I have a grievance with you. There's something that's bothering me about our working relationship. I would really like to demonstrate how we work on a conflicted conversation, live here on the podcast, and record it. So we did, and they were gracious. They were so good to me. And you can hear the awkwardness, you can hear the fears. You can hear the surprise. It's a really fascinating look. And the reason I did that is that this is a model that we teach our clients on how to engage in conflict or confrontation, and I wanted to model it. I also wanted to show where we make mistakes and, and mess up, but we can recover as long as we're connected to each other. That's the fun one. I always point people to that Naked Leadership, episode 145.

Beyond that, you can find me on LinkedIn. Our website is I would love to hear from you all. Goodbye.


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