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Zugzwang moments within performance goals

Performance goals

Performance goal season is wrapping up. With a few days remaining, you summarize your annual performance to each goal and competency you agreed to. As you write your exhibits, you assemble data from sources to serve as evidence for your self-assessed rating. Some results exceed the expectations with tangible actions you lead or were a key contributor. Then there were others, those that you failed miserably. There may have been one where you knew midyear that the unfavorable results were inescapable regardless of efforts you would continue throughout the year. Zugzwang. 

Failed performance goals

Regarding the one you failed at, it was inevitable that the goal was unachievable. You might have even wrestled with forecasted options or ill-conceived wisdom, trying to unearth a way to achieve the goal. But the math just was not there. No matter how you adjusted the variables in the equation, the result was still a performance branding. Even with each incremental improvement that epitomizes your commitment to excellence, moral foundation, and distaste to quit, the result will be a failure. 


There is a moment in chess playing where you suddenly realize a loss is forthcoming. With each incremental move, you hope for a strategic intuition that rebounds the game in your favor. You helplessly move your bishop, knowing the unavoidable loss is in the next ten moves. Yet, you keep playing the game with failure on the horizon. 

In chess, they use the term zugzwang to represent the wrestling of emotions to make another move that gets you closer to a loss. With the German roots, the etymology has it that zug means to pull, and zwang references the force. This urge makes you think that the next move might be the one that shifts the game in your favor, yet you know that it is just one step closer to the loss.

But you pushed through. The year is over, and you will maintain the momentum toward excellence. The endurance optioned during the moments of zugzwang can build the mission and targets for next year. It is from the wins you analyze how you could have been better. It is from the losses that you reflect on the moments where you fell short in preparedness, discipline, or execution. 

There is a process towards excellence. It is understanding the resistance that hinders momentum. It is the motivation that organically grows from the defeats versus routinely glamorizing victories. Finish the game and set your incremental goals toward excellence.

It’s a German term, meaning ‘compulsion to move’, but it was adopted into English in the early 1900s through chess. Zugzwang is a position on the chess board where you are still in the game, with a number of moves available to you, every one of which loses. - Luke McKernan


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