Mar 312013 4 Responses

How Leaders (and Parents) Focus on the Wrong Things

Outcomes. Quarterly numbers, individual sales calls, semester grades, making curfew. Leaders (and parents) tend to focus on outcomes because they are measurable. They are easy to judge. They aren’t debated. Either it worked or it didn’t. Either the subordinates obeyed or they didn’t.

Leaders focus on outcomes, yet very few outcomes truly matter. As a collection they matter greatly, but one client, one sale, one grade or one curfew generally do not matter in the big picture. Even if we lose our biggest client, we can find one even bigger. Who will remember one test score or one curfew?

What matters is the process behind those outcomes.

The process matters because it will be repeated. Outcomes are past events. They can’t be changed. They can’t be undone. Whatever has happened has happened. Yet whatever process led to the outcome is likely the same process which will be used the next time.

This is where leaders (and parents) should focus.

  • How did decisions get made?
  • Who was involved?
  • What information was reviewed?
  • What blind spots were ignored?
  • How were some options eliminated and others accepted?
  • What did we get right?
  • What did we get wrong?

Processes matter more than outcomes because they will be repeated and because we can control them.

Many outcomes are out of our control. A sale might be more dependent on the mood of the client than the skill of the salesperson. A quarterly number might have more to do with the national economy than the individual company. A grade on a test might have more to do with the question-making ability of the professor than the study of the student. Many outcomes are out of our control, but all processes are under our control.

Coaches know this. It’s why they spend hours on drills, fine tuning fundamentals and running plays. Whether or not an individual free throw is made is unknown, yet the person who spends the most time perfecting their shot will have a better chance. Given one shot I could make and Lebron James could miss. Given 100 shots I have no chance to beat him. His process is better.

Leaders (and parents) make a mistake by putting too much energy in outcomes and not enough energy in processes.

  • Think about how much time is spent worrying about the quarterly number.
  • Consider how much easier life is when the grades are up.
  • Consider how horrible it is when the numbers are down.

While outcomes can be rewarded or punished, a majority of our time should be focused on dissecting and improving processes.

By doing so, we focus on what we control and what matters. We teach others that we can influence what happens. By focusing on outcomes we can falsely teach that we are victims, unable to influence our fate.

Followers focus on outcomes. Leaders focus on processes.

What process is the most important to your family, your company, your life?

4 Responses to How Leaders (and Parents) Focus on the Wrong Things
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  3. […] Be confident in your process, but include others in your process. Malzahn is famous for having confi...
  4. […] parenting. Parents make the same mistakes when they focus on outcomes instead of the processes, acco...

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