Good leaders recognize outcomes. Great leaders also recognize process.
That’s because outcomes are not always in one’s control. But process or effort is. So when great leaders recognize process, what they’re saying is “You’re moving the right levers and that makes you a success in my book already.”
Do we always move the right levers to get the results we want? We would like to believe we do. But we’re so fixated on outcomes that we lose sight of process. And outcomes are really ‘pre-achieved’ (or ‘pre-lost’) in how we adhere to process. Here’s an example.
Let’s say you want to lose 5 kilos in 2 months. It’s a good outcome to chase. You wake up every morning and you tell yourself, “I have to lose those 5 kilos so let’s hit the gym” or “Let’s eat fruit for breakfast." At the end of two months you notice that you haven’t quite met your goal. You’ve lost maybe 2 kilos. You haven’t lost critical fat off of your belly. And the muscle tone isn’t as sharp as you expected.
You focused on that goal strongly. So what happened?
The problem is you were probably chasing the wrong metric. Process experts differentiate between lead measures and lag measures in making progress. A lag measure charts your performance against the end goal. A lead measure charts your performance against actions that lead up to the end goal. The former parameter measures success. The latter parameter measures effort. Evidently, your chances of achieving success become higher not by measuring ‘success’ (an outcome) but by measuring ‘effort’ (process). So if you want to lose 5 kilos, you need to focus on boring but relevant lead measures like:
· Have I had fruits and fibres today?
· Have I done a combination of cardio and weights today?
· Have I avoided unnecessary simple carbs today?
· Have I avoided eating anything after 7 pm?
The key words in those statements are the specifics of diet and exercise and, of course, ‘today.’ Thinking obsessively about these lead measures as opposed to thinking obsessively about the lag measure (I need to lose 5 kilos) will bring you closer to your outcome.
In other words, process eats outcomes for breakfast.
The theory isn’t valid only for hard topics like work and exercise. It works just as beautifully and silently for softer subjects as well.
Let’s say you’ve got feedback that you’re not a very sensitive or compassionate manager. So the outcome is ‘be more considerate.’ But if you chase that lag measure, you probably won’t make much progress.
Instead, if you chased a lead measure that links to the lag measure, you move the right levers and increase your chance of succeeding. What’s a good lead measure in this case? Well, for starters you can try and be a better listener. Better listening leads to better understanding and that in turns leads to better, more conscious and relevant supervising. Your team member is already happier. Now link more abstract lead measures to your outcome - ask questions, suspend judgment, check in on feelings – and soon you’re becoming more ‘considerate’ even when you’re not overtly thinking about ‘being more considerate.’
Whether its work, relationships or self-improvement, substituting lag measures for lead measures can help us direct precious effort in areas where it really matters. This increases our chances of success and even if you don’t succeed – because outcomes are not in your control – it still makes good use of your energy and that can be its own reward.