Provision #339: What’s Your BHAG?

Laser Provision


Have you ever heard of a BHAG? It stands for a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal,” and it can make the difference between surviving and thriving. If you want to make 2004 the best year yet, then claiming and working toward a BHAG may be exactly what the doctor ordered!

LifeTrek Provision

I don’t know if he actually coined the phrase, but author Jim Collins first wrote of BHAGs back in 1993 and he has been working with that acronym ever since in such best-selling books as Built to Last and Good to Great.

What’s a BHAG (pronounced Bee-Hag)? It’s a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” What’s the difference between a regular goal and a BHAG? It’s the difference, as Mark Twain would say, between the lightning bug and lightning.

Regular goals can be bland, vague, and dreary. BHAGs are spicy, definite, and bright. You know when you’re in the presence of a BHAG, because it has an irresistible pull. It is, in the words of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, a “target that beckons.” Or, to quote Collins himself, it is “a clear and compelling goal that focuses people’s efforts. It is tangible, specific, crisp, clear and engaging. It reaches out and grabs people in the gut.”

The classic illustration of a BHAG was President John F. Kennedy’s call in 1962 to put someone on the moon before the end of the decade. In that call, Kennedy presented the framework, alternatives, application, values, benefits, challenge, humor, and inspiration that constitute all BHAGs. Consider his approach and words:

Framework. Despite the resources devoted to scientific exploration, and despite the fact that scientists know more today than ever before, Kennedy reminded the nation that “the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension.”

Alternatives. Kennedy recognized that in every human endeavor, some choose to rest and wait while others choose to press on. He sided with those who chose to press on. Citing William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, Kennedy noted “that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”

Application. Kennedy saw particular importance to pressing in the exploration of space. “The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”

Values. He also saw how the space race was about human values. “Space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on us. And I say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without proliferating weapons of mass destruction, and without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.”

Benefits. And he acknowledged the prospective benefits. “The growth of science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school. Technical institutions will reap the harvest of these gains while the economy will see the creation of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs.”

Challenge. Having set the stage, he issued the challenge. “To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead. We shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth.”

Humor. Given the heat of the day and the overwhelming nature of the challenge, it was time for Kennedy to reach for a laugh. “To do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out, we must be bold. But since I’m the one who is doing all the work, you can stay cool for a minute. [laughter]”

Inspiration. Kennedy concluded with memorable inspiration. “Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, ‘Because it is there.’ Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”

Such is the BHAG archetype. It always includes framework, alternatives, application, values, benefits, challenge, humor, and inspiration. These are things that not only make the case, but get us moving. And they are not the exclusive purview of presidents and kings. There can be very personal BHAGs related to our private and/or professional lives.

For the past year and a half, I have worked with an exceptional client who established and reached one BHAG after another. His first BHAG was to lose almost half his body weight. For two months, during our coaching conversations, we pondered the framework, alternatives, values, and benefits of this BHAG. That’s when he decided to get serious. He joined Weight Watchers, continued coaching, and over the next 14 months lost more than 150 pounds.

That would be enough for most people, but as the weight was coming off my client adopted a new BHAG: to train for and run the Kiawah Island Marathon as part of the LifeTrek Coaching contingent. The event took place last Saturday, with near perfect weather conditions, and my client achieved his goal.

On Friday, my client sent out a finisher picture and e-card to his friends and family that read, “I would like to share with you the gift that I gave to myself this year. Since June, I’ve been training for the Kiawah Island Marathon by running 650 miles over 28 weeks. During my training, when I would run up hills and get tired, I would say to myself, “It is a long road to Kiawah, but at least there will not be any hills when I get there.”

“I enjoyed my marathon training and the race was tough and took everything that I had to finish in 4:14:55. But I’m proud of having given myself the gift of being able to run. In my 48th year, I enjoyed doing something that I could not do in my 20s.”

That’s what happens when we establish and reach a BHAG: we get moving and feel great! As many approach the start of a new year, now may be a particularly opportune time to identify a BHAG of your own. Don’t worry about what other people may think. One person’s BHAG may be another person’s small potato. It may even be the opposite of another person’s BHAG, depending upon your values. But when you find a true BHAG, like true love, you will know:

  • It will get your juices flowing.
  • It will get you up in the morning, with energy to dig in and face the day.
  • It will eliminate procrastination.
  • It will generate new ideas, opportunities, and connections.
  • It will move you forward in the direction of your desired future state.

If you are having problems with motivation, energy, procrastination, abundance, and progress, then you may not have latched on to a true BHAG. True BHAGs produce results.

To find a true BHAG, you may want to start by playing with the framework, alternatives, application, values, and benefits of doing what you want to do and of being who you want to be. Only when these are in total alignment will you be able to overcome inertia and build momentum. To champion a true BHAG, to identify a challenge and rise to the occasion, to wave the flag and take the hill, we need to know the who, what, when, where, why, and how of getting things done.

But once we know that we know that we know that we know, nothing can stop us. This is one area where working with a coach can make a world of difference. In the context of an unconditionally supportive conversation, we can see the framework, consider the alternatives, apply the logic, set the values, and weigh the benefits before proceeding to knock down the challenge.

What would you like to be able to say to your friends and family at the end of 2004? If you establish and reach a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, you will no doubt have much to crow about.

Coaching Inquiries: Do you have a BHAG? Do you feel the tug? Are you moving forward? Do you have a plan? If not, who can coach you to get on board?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.


Your work, much more often than not, is very consistent with what I believe. I’ve been fortunate to serendipitously come across folks like yourself who shine a little light on the path, give a word of direction, support or encouragement at just the right time and have parlayed that experience into a philosophy that only requires us to “do the best we can with what we have.” That’s the family motto I’ve adopted from my grandmother. I hope this gives you some perspective on how much I appreciate your work, why it resonates with me, and from what depths the sincerity of my thanks for your work springs from. Thanks.


I so much have enjoyed your series on listening. I just realized that somehow I missed the one on deep listening. How could I read that one also? (Ed. Note: All Provisions are archived are our Web site, including a search engine for easy topical browsing. The one you are looking for is Provision #331 Click).


Well, what can we say…. You did it again! Congrats on running the Kiawah Island marathon. Hope it wasn’t too tough a run considering you had a very recent reminder of what it would feel like.



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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