WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT GOALS, YOU think future. Especially goals set way out ahead. The goal becomes a beacon. It may exert power to shape behavior, magnify effort, and intensify focus in the present so that the distance between oneself and the goal gets less and less—and eventually disappears. Then it's time for a new goal. Goals are the constantly moving targets that, as they add up, give substance to one's purpose and mission, personally or as a company.

But for some goals, especially ones that are really hard to get to, people find that it helps to focus on the past as well as the future. Looking back at where one has been and how far one has come sometimes causes a burst of inspiration, determination, or refusal-to-fail that it takes to move onward toward the goal.

In mid-August, for example, Ken Neumann, his wife, son, and daughter set out into the wilderness for a weekend together. It was on the eve of the return to university for the two Neumann kids, and they all thought, “What better way to spend time together before school starts than to hike up 11,000 feet, camp, and then continue climbing to 14,000 feet the next day. And do that for the whole weekend ... .”

A few miles from their summer home in Silverton, Colo., 15 miles—give or take—southeast of Telluride, navigable roads stretch into the woods and then end. On horseback, the Neumanns follow trails for another seven miles off-road, reach the base of the mountain, and start climbing. Rain mixed with fair weather, a newly discovered mountain fishing lake, a couple of days above the tree line, exactly this family's idea of a bonding weekend.

During the final ascent, “about 500 feet from the top, my wife—Jean, who is partner and chief marketing officer at Neumann Homes—got tired,” says Ken, adding that camping at 11,000 feet the night before, the thin air, and the weight of the backpack conspired to introduce a moment of hesitation and discouragement about feeling up for the rest of the climb to the top. The kids had already run to the peak and were waiting.

“I said to Jean, ‘we're going to the top, but we're in no rush,' ” Ken says. “We had this incredible outlook where we were, and we could look down at where we'd come from and take it all in.” The vista, and what it meant about the skill it took to get to that elevation, provided a final gust of pride, so they climbed to their kids on the peak.

Metaphors of mountain climbing—“Success is a journey, not a destination”—are common currency at Warrenville, Ill.-based Neumann Homes. But they don't come out of Amazon's latest best-selling motivational book; they're taken from real life.

When Ken Neumann, one of five siblings, was a kid in East Troy, Wisc., his father used to talk of coming face-to-face with “old man mountain.” When he was not spending hours “making things” in the workshop, he took the challenge literally—technical-, rock-, hiking-, hunting-climbing—making the sport a passion. That passion has co-existed with Ken's passion for the workshop, which evolved into construction jobs through high school and college.

So, in his mid-30s in 1994, it came time to decide what he wanted to do with his life, and he shared his vow among his brothers. His goal was to build the $30- or $40-million family construction and real estate development company into a billion-dollar enterprise, one of the nation's best home building companies, “by the time I'm 50.” See contributor Michael Bordenaro's “Capital Climb” profile on page 50.

People who've worked with Ken for any amount of time, and his wife too for that matter, understand that when he says, “We're going to get to the top,” there's almost no stopping him. They're all at an elevation they could hardly have dreamed of getting to before, looking down for a moment, proud of doing what it took to get them there. Counting on that adrenaline rush for the next push upward.

e-mail: jmcmanus@hanleywood.com