How Leaders Can Go Beyond SMART Goals with Martin Parnell

SMART goals are those which follow the rules of the acronym; that is, they are (S)pecific, (M)easurable, (A)chievable/attainable, (R)elevant, and (T)ime-bound. 

The system is very useful in simplifying goal-setting into a more exact science, and stops us from the type of fanciful thinking that leads to unrealistic goals. Sometimes, however, you need fanciful thinking; sometimes you need to go beyond SMART goals and scale a 19,000-foot mountain in less than a day. 

For Martin Parnell, our guest in episode #056, that mountain was Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. For you, the “mountain” could represent any challenge that seems impossible to climb, like an enormous work directive with limited time. 

Martin explains approach of a person who has overcome many challenges that initially seemed impossible, letting us in on some of the content usually reserved for his exclusive clients.

Martin Parnell

Martin Parnell - Meeting Leadership Podcast - Effective Meetings

Through his “Quests for Kids” initiative, Martin Parnell has completed 10 quests, which include running 250 marathons in one year and setting five Guinness World Records in endurance events, as well as summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in 21 hours. By the end of 2014, he had raised over $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play, giving over 27,000 children a better chance at life.

Martin’s book ‘Marathon Quest’ was published by Rocky Mountain Books, and CBC Radio listed him as one of Alberta’s top five authors in 2014. His second book, ‘Running to the Edge’ was released in November 2016. The final book of The Marathon Trilogy, titled ‘The Secret Marathon-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport’ was released in October of 2018.

Through keynotes and workshops, Martin shares his message: Finish the Race Attitude – setting goals and overcoming obstacles to unlock your potential.  He is married to Sue, and has three children and three grandchildren.

You Can get in touch with Martin Parnell at

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00:00 – Show Opening

Are you a professional who wants to become a more effective leader? Then get ready for daily tips from the coach with the experience and inspiration to help you succeed in any leadership situation. You’re listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast with Gordon Sheppard.

00:27 – Start Here – Podcast content starts here!

Welcome to another episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast. My name is Gordon Sheppard and I want to say thanks. Thanks for being here. Thanks for taking the time to dig into these episodes on the show and build your leadership skills, and really, more than that, get out there and take action. The feedback that I’m getting about the show is wonderful. I know that it’s having an impact, and I really appreciate that people like you are here to listen and do something about it.

00:54 – SMART Goals

And if you are a leader who really appreciates SMART goals, as in specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound, well, then you’re really going to get a lot out of today’s episode, because today we’re going to talk about how leaders can go beyond SMART goals. 

01:10 – Welcome back, Martin Parnell!

And we are fortunate enough to do this with expert Martin Parnell. Now, Martin is a Guinness World Record holder. He ran 250 marathons in one year. He’s a TEDx speaker. His pedigree is unquestionable. And the big thing that he’s going to take us through today is his process for helping leaders go beyond SMART goals.And with that in mind, I’m not going to hold you back any longer. Here’s the interview with Martin Parnell.

Martin, you knocked it out in Episode 43 of the show. It is great to have you back on here today. But for many people, they might be hearing you for the first time. Take a moment to introduce yourself and let people know about your wonderful accomplishments.

Martin Parnell: Great. Thanks Gord. Pleasure to be here today. My name is Martin Parnell and I immigrated from England at the age of 21, worked in the mining industry for 25 years. But over the last 10 years, I’ve dedicated myself to accomplishing goals way beyond what I thought was feasible, including running 250 marathons in one year, setting five Guinness World Records in endurance sports, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 21 hours, and running the coast of England, a thousand kilometers, a marathon [inaudible 00:02:16].

02:39 – How leaders can go beyond SMART goals

Gordon Sheppard: What a great way to get around England, doing it that way. What a great way to run up a mountain. I don’t know if I’m tired listening to you in terms of imagining what it takes to do all those things, or in fact the reality is, as a leader, it’s absolutely inspiring. And there’s something that you brought forward in that first interview about goal setting and sticking to it that I think so many people are going to learn from.Now, today we’re going to go beyond that and we’re going to talk about how leaders can go beyond SMART goals. And when you come up with that concept, which we talked about before the interview, what do you mean?

Martin Parnell: I’ve been fascinated with goal setting really ever since I came up with the idea of running the 250 marathons and trying to raise $250,000 in one year for the children’s charity, Right To Play. And the whole concept about, what does it take to achieve a goal? And one thing I stepped into or looked at right away was the idea of the SMART goals, the SMART being specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. But what I felt was it was like a recipe that just had the ingredients, but there was no process. So I really, from my perspective, dug deeper and really set a step-by-step approach on how to set goals, goal execution, and goal completion. And really that’s what I’ve tried to follow in all these crazy challenges that I’ve taken on.

03:30 – Goal Setting –

Gordon Sheppard: Well, for the leaders who are listening, this is hyper valuable. Take me into the first part of your process and let’s actually work through your process so that people can learn more about it. What’s the first step?

Martin Parnell: Well, the first step really is the goal setting. The episode we just went through, Gord, I taught on the why, but now let’s get into the actual meat of what I’m trying to do here.

03:49 – Stretch, Planning, Support, and Commitment

 Martin Parnell: And I talk about four areas in goal setting, the stretch, planning, support, and commitment. The stretch is the gap. What’s the gap between where you are now and where you want to be? And in between that is really the steps that have to happen to get to the goal. The other’s planning. So critical. I totally believe in planning. But let’s realize things will happen, but I think the effort you put into planning will pay huge dividends. Support. Who’s going to support you? Who’s going to be on your team? And when I ran the 250 marathons, I had a medical team, I had people who were supporting me, a media team, the Right To Play team, and so on. Who’s going to be in your corner? And we talked about it in the previous episode, commitment. Committing, you know, what are you willing to do to achieve that goal? And those are the key elements that actually happen before you even start the goal.

04:40 – Buy into the process, and follow it through to the end

Gordon Sheppard: Well, and it’s amazing to hear this overview. And I’ll bet you we could do a four-hour interview just about your feet when I hear about your medical team. This is the nitty gritty of being in those moments where you think, you know, you’ve done these things, you’ve set out these things, you’ve planned. You could be a leader, like you were mentioning earlier, leading a business situation. You’ve committed to make a certain amount of profit. You’ve committed to your family. You’ve committed perhaps to your volunteer group. But really, when I mentioned your feet thing, I don’t mean to sound gross for a second, but those are so many … Footwear, and feet, and all those details and things that you need to stay committed to as you’re trying to reach those goals, that’s an example of kind of what it takes when you’re down in the trenches.

Martin Parnell: Absolutely. And it’s interesting, you talk about feet and shoes, I used 25 pairs of shoes when I ran the 250 marathons, and I didn’t have a shoe sponsor. But I went out and people gave me shoes, individual shops, and then in the end I had 25 pairs of shoes that I needed. Very basic, but you got to look after the details. You have to be totally invested in where you’re trying to go, in your people, what they need, and in the process. And you’ve got to buy into the process and follow it through to the end.

05:50 – Workshopping into an action plan – Case study

Gordon Sheppard: Well, and I know you’re a workshop instructor, so you’re in this moment where you have these accomplishments, but then you’re also to enable other leaders in given situations because you work, again, all over the place in terms of dealing with senior leaders. What are some of the key things that you’re able to do to get them to take action when you spend an hour or a day with them?

Martin Parnell: My key approach is I have a one-day workshop with a small group, with my process and work book. We go through a real-life example. They come and they say what is their goal. Timing is critical, so we look at a goal that can be achieved in the next six months, and we workshop, we go through the whole process. And that allows them to leave the workshop prepared and ready to step right in with a specific goal. And so they walk out of the one day with something tangible that they can [inaudible] away.

Gordon Sheppard: Is there sort of a favorite case? And you don’t need to mention names, but is there sort of a favorite example where at the beginning of the day this leader was in a certain state, and at the end of the day they made a transformation?

Martin Parnell: Gosh, I’ve had [inaudible] different examples. Some are personal, some are business. The one that kind of sticks in my mind is a young fellow, and this was a personal goal, he loved music and he wanted to actually write and record songs. We worked through the one day, and at the end of the day he had established contacts, who to follow up, he had already written two songs, and he was committed to actually record an album. And, again, I think whether this is personal or whether it’s business, this process works. And people walk out of the workshop with an action plan.

Gordon Sheppard: That is absolutely remarkable, writing … So if I started with you in the morning and I’d written two songs by the end of the day, and I knew where I was going, how lucky it is to be in the room with you. How lucky I think it is for the folks that have received the benefits of your fundraising and all of your other inspiration that I know you’re already putting into places like The Rotary and all these other places. If people want to get in touch with you to experience some of this magic, what’s the best way they can do it?

07:51 – Get in touch with Martin Parnell –

Martin Parnell: Yeah. The best approach, Gord, is for them to go to my website, They can read about all the accomplishments, how I’ve used goals to achieve a number of key aspects of my life. There’s a Ted Talk there which I think they’ll find very interesting, Life Is A Relay. And they can contact me through the website, through the contact portion of it.

Gordon Sheppard: Well, Martin, we now know we can go beyond SMART goals. It was great to have you here on the show again. Thank you so much.

Martin Parnell: Gord, an absolute pleasure. Thank you.

Gordon Sheppard: You know, I have to say that one of my biggest takeaways from that interview is that SMART goals don’t work without a process. And to think that people like Martin are out there helping leaders right now actually figure out the process to implement SMART goals, well, that is an absolute gift. And the second takeaway for me from that interview is Martin’s humility. Can you just imagine being able to rattle off all those things? And it doesn’t sound like he’s sort of bragging, it’s just these are things that he’s done. You know that he’s going to do more in his life for the people that he’s going to touch and how he’s going to inspire others in the future. I really appreciate that about his character.

08:57 – Previous episode with Martin Parnell –

Gordon Sheppard: And if you’d like to learn even more from Martin Parnell, check out Episode 43 on the Meeting Leadership Podcast. It’s called Why Goal Setting Is Critical For All Leaders. And you can get that by going to

09:13 – More from Martin Parnell –

And we are also really lucky to have Martin back on Episode 76. And in there, he’s going to share an inspiring story about how running and his passion for it took him over to Afghanistan to support women who, under really tough circumstances, are just learning to run marathons over there. And you can listen to that interview by going to

09:37 – Meeting Leadership Academy –

Gordon Sheppard: And I also want to let you know that this episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast is brought to you by the Meeting Leadership Academy. Now, like Martin, I am also a trainer, and I’m really proud of the live training that I offer through the Academy to work with senior leaders, to get them practical tips, to help them build their leadership skills so they can run outstanding meetings. And if you’d like to learn more about that, please visit

Gordon Sheppard: And, as always, thank you so much for listening. And we’ll see you tomorrow on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.

10:10 – Podcast Outro

Thanks for listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast. Be sure to subscribe for more strategies to help you become an outstanding leader. And don’t forget to rate and review so we can bring you fresh content every day. We’ll see you tomorrow, right here on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.

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Gordon Sheppard

Gord is on a mission to change the world, one meeting at a time. Over his 25+ years in business Gord has run or participated in more than 2000 meetings! Not only is Gord the CEO of Business Expert Solutions Inc. (owner/operator of Meeting Leadership Inc), but he is also a Facilitator, Trainer, Business Consultant, Author, Speaker and Podcaster who helps leaders learn how to have great meetings, so they can build outstanding organizations and serve their clients at the highest possible level.

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