Leaders Focus

Leaders Focus

Leaders of large organizations are frequently inundated with data. However, the best leaders keep it simple and focus on two things:
  1. The mission.
  2. Their people.
Simplify your leadership life and drive progress faster by focusing on the right things. I put together a scorecard in an infograph format that tells me as a leader what matters most.

The Only Useful Data

I’ve heard and seen many statements about managing by data. I hate almost all of them. Why? Because people have migrated to the wrong idea of what data can do. Data should never dictate what we do – it should only be another source that guides our view. Data is an informer to action, but it should not direct action in and of itself. One leadership problem with many managers in today’s world is they do not want to make a mistake and so instead of letting data inform them they use data to tell them what to do in an effort to eliminate risk and play it safe.   I am critical of this because social-type of data has a high bias towards the informer/provider of the information, and often lacks enterprise visibility to broader issues. I remember being the Operations Officer in the recruiting field of the Marine Corps where we collected data every morning as a way to forecast the productivity of recruiters. If they didn’t report enough contracts, we would say – do more calls. What would we get then? Reports the next day basically told us more calls had been made, but rarely without a resulting increase in contracts. I learned early on that what happens at the grass-roots level is really different from what gets reported up through the chain in the form of data. If one uses those reports as a sole element to make decisions, he will find himself making bad decisions.   So how do we get useful data? It’s an art. I’ve worked up this scorecard to show what data points are really important to me right now. This is only a model, once the leader determines what his scorecard or infograph should look like, then the nature of the data can be understood along with the biases those data bring. The use of this type of scorecard allows the leader to focus on only a few things that are important. Much of the data will be subjective in these scorecards. The intent is that the data are identified, instantiated, assessed, and interpreted by the leader and the leadership team.

Focus On What’s Important

List the top 5 projects. I like 5 because that forces priorities to be clear and eliminates dilution. Let’s face it – how much do we really care about project number 23? What do you want to know about the top 5? I think you want to know:
  • Health (red or green – don’t allow yellow. It’s either going well or it’s not. Yellow only gives us a passive position – if it’s green, great. If it’s red then leadership needs to get involved.
  • ETNI (Estimated time to next impact). I use to strive for delivery date. Now I no longer believe that’s valid because most large projects make several impacts long before they are complete. We want to know about that impact and be able to discuss it, measure it, market it, etc.


These are fire alarms. If there is a problem in one of these areas, you want big sirens to go off. There should only be a few alarms.


Who can you congratulate today? Leaders who make a conscious effort to work among their people at all levels and use positive reinforcement affect the organization and its purposes at a deep grass-roots level. This type of leadership produces the highest social capital and loyalty for the leader among the organization.

Red-Green Bias

A significant scorecard problem is dealing with bias whenever you ask for red/green type of categorization. Subordinate leaders will do everything in their power to eliminate something from red to make it green and that includes doing things that would give you a false green. My recommendation is that you don’t collect data that causes something to become red or green. You simply ask questions and then you assign your own value to it. After asking questions you determine if something is red or green. Or, even better, an honest discussion with the leadership council can help tease out if something is red or green as long as the council follows a good practice of being a safe place for expressing honest views.

Focus on People

Congratulating people has to come from within the organization. I used my admin at CorVel to help me manage this process and it worked out quite well. The 4-leadership indicators at the bottom are also self-assessed for the same reason as above – you have to control for bias. The leadership indicators are fundamental, and of course adopted from the Marines. But, if a leader really wants to know how the leadership of an organization is performing, being able to assess these four indicators is the most powerful reflection I’ve seen. Another method for collecting input on the 4-leadership indicators is to adopt a quick survey tool like CaptusR (concept) that allows for a really fast input from the broad collection of the organization.

Strategic Distribution

This section allows you to see how your projects and spending support for your strategies. The reason this is important is that it forces the organization to put conscious energy on achieving strategic objectives. Focusing on linking execution to strategy puts leaders back in charge of the organization because they can better direct the use of resources to assure the strategic goals are being translated into execution plans.

Strategic Alignment

This section gives the leader the ability to see how projects are aligned to strategy. Saying a project maps to strategy is not enough. The leadership team uses the bullseye exercise to critically evaluate how projects are really contributing. If a project doesn’t have a strategy to map to, or if it sits on the outer ring, that project is a good candidate for elimination, or at the very least high scrutiny. The bulls-eye technique comes from Kotter (cite). The process is the senior management team sets the strategic objectives up as a bulls-eye (one for each bulls-eye). Then, the management team goes through a brainstorming exercise to pin the initiatives that are on the plans to deliver those strategic objectives. But, the pinning is relative to how closely the initiative can drive the objective. The use of Gartner magic quadrant graphs also provide excellent ways to visualize how projects are contributing to the leadership’s direction of the organization. Projects that fall in undesirable quadrants ought to receive very strong scrutiny. Note: Visual management tools are making huge inroads in large enterprise organizations. But, many of those tools rely on complex data feeds and integration projects. All of this is very costly and doesn’t make for a good MVP (minimum viable project). I prefer a method that lets me and my councils honestly self-assess what is happening. In that way, the four-leadership indicators are the driving thrust of how I view the organization.