Focusing On The Wrong Outcome

Culture of Execution
I rented a tool called a brush hog this week. It was the perfect tool to clear the chest high thorny blackberry bushes covering a plot of land we purchased. In fact, it was so effective I returned the tool early. Oddly, I didn’t feel satisfied. I felt a little guilty for not using the tool for the full duration of my rental period. I was leaving value on the table, or so it seemed.
I totally get it if you are thinking, what has this got to do with leadership. Looking back at my career, this example illustrates how I sometimes focused on the wrong outcome. Let me explain. When I focused on the cost and time of the rental, my goal was to minimize my cost per hour of usage. Returning the tool in the final minute of the rental period would achieve this. It explains why I felt guilty, I hadn’t minimized my cost per hour.

Focusing on the right outcome

Let’s contrast this with a different viewpoint. What was my overall goal? It wasn’t to minimize the cost per hour, it was to remove all the blackberry vines from my property. Not only that, it was to remove them as quickly and easily as possible. Using this desired outcome, my rental was a complete success. The tool was highly effective, clearing the land with much less effort than using a hand tool like a machete. And it took less time than I expected.
Was I wrong to consider the cost per hour? Yes and no. I shouldn’t have used this as my measure of satisfaction. Instead, I could have used this measure to decide which tool to rent or where to rent from. If competing rental shops offered the same tool, it makes sense to choose the lower cost.

What can you learn from this?

I hope by now you see how this is relevant to your role as a leader. It is critical to focus on the right outcome and measure of success. It is easy to get distracted by irrelevant goals and measures. The most common example I see is specifying goals as activities instead of outcomes. Success is defined as the amount of work done instead of whether the desired outcome was achieved. At a time when talent is hard to come by, that is a big problem.