A question that can strengthen how you manage and elevate how you lead

I love leadership, but often in my work I find that people never learned to manage. Some (me!) naturally have their heads in the sky, so they fail to generate the clarity that helps people work in concert (I think of an orchestra or band concert where you better be not just on the same page, but in the same measure, on the same note). Others are focused on execution, but for them nobody does it as well as they do, so they delegate poorly and micromanage.  Both types need to manage better.

One of the greatest tools of management is the axiom: “What gets measured gets done.”  As a teacher I see this constantly.  I offer tens of suggestions of ways students can innovate and learn and lead, but they are so conditioned to respond to what gets graded, that unless they know something will be measured towards that  goal, that grade, there is next to zero chance they will do it.  If you don’t have measures for the things that really matter, well, it would be best to put aside all your other work for this week, and forget about this Reading for Leading and instead refocus on just what success is, how you will know if you have it, and what measures make sense.  People who stick to that basic sequence will be great managers.  And there is more.

Most people who have taken some form of Management 101, whether at college or in On the Job Training, know the axiom, “what gets measured, gets done.”

Leaders are also mindful of the wise old relative to this axiom:  “What gets measured gets obsessed about.”

The score, the measure, the number — it’s an important reflection of the goal.  But it’s not the goal itself.  That’s where many of my students are right now: so fixed on the grade – that they’ve forgotten what it’s all intended to measure:  their learning.  Sometimes the what-gets-measured-obsession leads to ethical breaches; one of my professorial office mates has been counseling a string of students who have all misrepresented their work.  Leadership never loses sight of this vital — “how” we work.

Sometimes, the aberrations that flow from the what-gets-measured-obsession are less extreme.  For instance, I have had a goal of regaining my running shape; why? To generate a sense of goal-achievement, to drop a few pounds, to feel healthy.  So, I went back to setting weekly mileage goals.  And it’s working: for the third week in a row I’ve hit my rising target. But this time around I’m reminding myself about the real goals, the intrinsic purpose.  And I’m watching whether hitting my numerical targets is truly achieving the underlying goals e.g., if the added miles are exhausting me and requiring lots more sleep, for instance, does this count as being more “healthy” which was the core outcome the numeric was supposed to measure? Are my sore knees a temporary side effect of the hard work, or are they actually a sign of weakened health?  Again, leadership never loses sight of the underlying purpose and the relative value of the measurements.

So, it’s worth looking in both directions: (1) Do you have goals with such clear measurables that everyone can act in concert?  If not, it’s worth getting everyone on the same page on what measures will reflect goal achievement.  But on the other hand, (2) Are you so obsessed with hitting your measures of success that you’re sacrificing either essential values — honesty, kindness, customer service, etc. — or in some ways missing the very heart of what you’re trying to achieve?

It takes both managing and leading for us to

Lead with our best self.


  • Exactly, Dan! That’s what performance appraisals ought to be doing – have a negotiation between the employee and supervisor every six months to agree to act on 2-3 things that will contribute to improved performance and to check back in to ensure that it is going as they had mutually agreed. The individual ought to be able to relate his/her to-do’s to the organization’s measurable performance, including the image the organization wishes to portray to the public.

  • Very wise words; may the education system take heed. When the test scores don’t really improve the purpose of education, the tail is wagging the dog.

  • Measurement is deceptive thing, since it is closely related to statistics, and as various historic figures have noted, there are lies, there are damnable lies, and then there are statistics. The use of measurements ought not preclude qualitative analysis, or the need for combining measurements to have a more complete picture of what is going on. For instance, I have known large corporations to eliminate a good are service is only two percent of customers buy or use it. This is done without asking whether the customers using those goods or services will then change companies for all the company’s goods and services, in addition to those specific goods and services.

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