What gets measured gets done.  This is a classic leadership quip that precedes most conversations on metrics.  I tell you that line haunts me sometimes.

We’ve talked about metrics before. (See our post on An Amazing Use of Metrics).  It’s Paul here; I am finding that line keeps haunting and dogging me.  Maybe you too?

I like measuring, because, well, I actually have a Masters in this stuff.

I hate measuring, because, well…I don’t think I can actually measure ‘how well I love my wife’ or ‘how well I raise my children’ or ‘how well I care for my aging parents’.

Measuring works!  Yup, when I coach sports and show how we are getting faster or stronger, folks believe in the training process and do it.

Measuring is dangerous!  Would I ever want to use metrics to compare my wife to other women? OF COURSE NOT!!!

I am in the process of working with a client and helping develop a handy guidebook for their leaders. It’s a wonderful challenge because we are writing a refresher, not including the big stack of original leadership classics, but a summary quick guide.  Because the intended recipients are busy, pragmatic, ‘Git ‘R Done’ professionals, the booklet needs to be in language that doesn’t sound like the consultants and authors that fill books and conferences on leadership.

In developing the book, we decided to include at least one page that talks to metrics, or measuring. I agree, but whoa…is this ever a confusing topic.

Why are metrics so confusing?

First off, there is a language problem.  Some clients I work with are downright absolutists about the boundaries between what is a metric, a measure, data, indicator … and yet, when I try to find the dictionary answer on the differences, it’s much less clear.

Then there is the application difference.  We have frequently shared our clarification between managing and leading. Since managing is about ‘what’s on the table’ (see our blog on this), measuring seems to make sense.  Measuring aspects like cost, quality and schedule.  So, for those athletes I mentioned…their time in the 40 yd dash is really about what’s on the table… it’s akin to schedule.

For leading? Wow, that’s a lot tougher. Google pulled off a pretty good attempt with their stats on what makes a good team, which you can learn more about at the blog post “One Essential Component to a Great Team”

Help for Your Metrics Thinking

On the team helping with this book is a West Point graduate. I value his perspective because West Point does a heckuva great job at guiding and forming young people into young leaders. He’s also worked in some tough, no-nonsense environments, so I can rely on him to be a good source of pragmatic advice.

He brought up the concept that I had not used in a while, the one that Stephen Covey calls the emotional bank account.  He shared that in his times as a leader, it was easy to measure whether he had made the journey, but it was really hard to see the cost to the emotional bank account.

Our conversation got me to thinking… about that metaphor; it’s a very powerful one because most of us can relate to the idea that when you don’t put in as many deposits as you make withdrawals, you’re going to go broke. But even with such a great metaphor, it doesn’t help us with any measuring methods. Do we really ever know how much we’ve put in as deposits to this ‘emotional bank account’ ? Do we really ever know what we take out as withdrawals?  Sometimes, a little sentence that forgives a mistake because we know the person is dealing with some other pressure can be a deposit much larger than we ever realize.  Sometimes, that little cynical tone in what we thought was just a gentle reminder to be on time withdraws more than we ever realize.

A leadership metric

In my book, Enabling Joy, there is a way to sort of measure on how often we are enabling joy, i.e…helping our team to connect, create and contribute.  It’s a cool tool, and it takes some dedicated effort to gather that data (walk-through example in the book).  It points at where we as leaders choose to invest our time, which is still a pretty good indicator, but far from one that clearly shows how effective we are at enabling joy.

The powerful aspect of that measure is it does show what ‘gets done’ by us. So, if the aphorism is true, that “What gets measured gets done”, then maybe the flip is true, that ‘what gets done is a measure of what’s important to you.’ That’s the premise in the book.

As the other old saying goes, if you want to know a person’s priorities, look at their calendar and their checkbook, then maybe that same advice will tell us how we’re doing with our emotional bank account.

My advice: when in doubt, double down on your deposits.  You can never have too much in your emotional bank account with others, and, besides, the interest on those deposits is absolutely out of this world.

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