Are you improving the way you lead? How do you know?

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When you decide to lose weight, you use a scale to measure your progress. Without that, you don’t have a way to know if you’re losing weight or not.

What about your quest to become a better leader? What can you use to measure your progress? That’s a more difficult question because there is no leadership scale that you can step on in the morning and tell if you’re doing better than yesterday. You must come up with something else.

Leading Indicators and Lagging Indicators

When you’re losing weight, it’s important to know how you’re doing. It’s important but it’s not enough. That’s because by the time you step on the scale, it’s too late. You need to concentrate on what you can do to help you lose weight then track those activities.

Your weight is a lagging indicator of your efforts. The things you do to help you lose weight can be leading indicators. You can identify things you should do that will drive your weight down and make weigh-ins more pleasant.

If it’s losing weight, you can buy a Fitbit or some other magical watch that lets you count steps and calories burned and all manner of statistical things. Be warned, though. Just having the watch and looking at the numbers won’t help much. You must measure what you do to get the outcome you want.

A friend of mine who wanted to lose weight didn’t depend on his Fitbit. Instead, he decided he would not eat until he was full but only until he “started to feel full.” The result was a loss of about a pound a week for the two years it took him to reach his target weight.

One of the things we know about how top supervisors work is they touch base a lot and have lots of conversations. A leading indicator for improving your leadership would be the number of conversations you have with team members every day. If you increase them, your leadership should improve.

The number of conversations is important. But the numbers themselves are not enough. Numbers tend to seduce us. But in most things related to leadership, quality, which doesn’t have a number, is important. Measurable does not mean countable.

Things You Can Count, and Things You Can’t

You can count the number of conversations, but that’s only part of what you should know to improve your leadership. You should know the quality of the conversations.

Part of this is because you’re judging what a “conversation” is. It won’t matter how many conversations you have if they’re all short and impersonal.

The reality is that you must judge some things. They’re impossible to measure, but necessary. You must judge your performance.

Judgement Requires Reflection

If you want to judge your leadership and your improvement, you must step out of the fray. You need solitude, time alone, where you can reflect. A journal can help.

Take notes during the day. If you’re having those conversations as a goal, make a note after each one to remind you of what went well and what didn’t.

When the day is done, take some time alone to review your notes and record in your journal how you did that day. Make notes about how you want to improve.

Combine Measurement and Judgement

Decide on a lead indicator to measure. I’ve been talking about conversations with team members. You may find other lead indicators more important.

Keep track of how you do. Mark Deterding shares a great example in his book, Leading Jesus Way.

“One of my favorite examples of a leader making encouragement a daily habit was a senior leader who was a fisherman. He would put six fishing jigs (sans hooks) in his left pocket every morning. Each time he caught someone doing the right thing, he complimented him or her and then moved a jig to his right pocket. His goal was to finish each day with all the jigs in his right pocket.”

Make notes. Use the notes to refresh your memory when you have time to reflect. Record your performance. Reflect on how things went. Decide on how you can do better.

Work on one thing at a time. I suggest a 90-day period to work on improvement. Then, reassess. Change what you’re working on if you choose.


How do you measure improvement as a leader?

Choose a lead indicator to track.

You can’t count leadership improvement. You must judge it.

Judgement requires reflection.

Record and reflect.

Reassess every 90 days.

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