What is your BHAG?

What does it take to ignite you to extraordinary effort?

If you are like me, you need a compelling mission – an exhilarating task that demands the best of what you have to give – in order for you to rise to the level of extraordinary effort. Can you relate?

Imagine a team, an organization, or an entire nation bonded together in vigorous pursuit of a huge goal on the frontier of the possible.

Like President Kennedy’s 1961 call to the nation to dedicate itself to achieving the goal of a man on the moon before the decade was out, most extraordinary achievements begin with what Collins and Porras call a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

A true BHAG is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort—often creating immense team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines. A BHAG engages people—it reaches out and grabs them in the gut. It is tangible, energizing, highly focused. People “get it” right away; it takes little or no explanation.

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last

I like the BHAG term because it conveys the emotional, bold nature of an outsized goal. If it isn’t compelling and galvanizing, it isn’t a BHAG.

Collins writes,

The best BHAGs make you think big. They force you to engage in both long-term building and short-term intensity. The only way to achieve a BHAG is with a relentless sense of urgency, day after day, week after week, month after month, for years… For BHAG-driven people, the extended discomfort, the enduring quest, can itself be a form of bliss. When you commit to a BHAG, it lives with you.

Jim Collins, Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0

Notice the comment about the difficulty of the BHAG itself being a form of bliss. The kind of people I like being around love a challenge; it injects meaning in their veins and gives them a powerful reason for waking up in the morning. Work isn’t draining anymore; it’s invigorating.

Leadership, whether driven by one person or expressed as a collective process, includes igniting us to rise to extraordinary efforts and to transform into what we need to become in order to achieve what must be done. Creating and communicating a BHAG is vital to that process.

QUESTION 1: As you reflect on your life, what is an example of a BHAG that has ignited you to rise to extraordinary efforts? Visualize the story and jot a few notes down about the compelling mission, the exhilarating task that demanded the best of what you had to give.

QUESTION 2: What is your current BHAG? What is the big, hairy, audacious goal galvanizing and compelling you and your team to rise to extraordinary levels of effort and to persevere in the face of daunting obstacles? What is the goal that gets your blood pumping and is bonding your team to vigorously pursue it together?

If you can’t name your BHAG, take a few minutes to jot some notes down. Brainstorm some possible BHAGs for you and your team. Then, share this article with your team and come together for a jam session to explore potential BHAGs. Envision the future and describe the mountain you would like to climb together. Picture yourselves celebrating at the top!

If, as Collins and Lazier write, “the number one responsibility of a leader is to catalyze a clear and shared vision for the company and to secure commitment to and vigorous pursuit of that vision,” then this work around BHAGs is not optional. Not only is it vital to mission success, it also infuses incredible energy and a deeper sense of purpose in our lives.

Closing warning: Collins reminds us to begin crafting our next BHAG before achieving our current one—or risk succumbing to the “we’ve arrived” syndrome, marked by complacency and malaise.

Author’s Note: If you are interested in digging deeper on this topic, I recommend starting with Chapter 5 of Built to Last, by Collins and Porras. After reading all Jim Collins’ books, I believe that is the best single chapter on the BHAG concept.