Leaders Measure More than the Average

When Mary Coffin of Wells Fargo spoke at September’s 90 Ideas event, she shared this nugget:

Measure more than the average.

She pointed out that when we take measurements, we do a lot of looking at trends and averages and norms to make decisions. But averages only tell us so much. We also need to look at extremes. Coffin says, “The ends of the scale bring significant insights and outcomes that need to be understood. Your greatest issues, gaps, and pitfalls can show up there.”

She’s right. Much has been made of learning from adversity or from grandiose plans that may fail but provide ideas and lessons.

What if we looked at measurements that are a bit outside the bell curve?

I carry a Franklin Planner, and toward the back I have some running lists I’ve kept for years. One of my favorites is labeled “SESSION FAILURES.” I execute about 135 engagements per year, and generally, they go well. Evaluations are pretty positive. That’s not remarkable; any speaker who has been in business a while would have a similar experience. Otherwise, we’d no longer be in business. But sometimes I feel badly about how something went. Even before the evals come in, I can sense it in body language or engagement. I work to immediately reflect on what I did differently and/or wrong, then record it on my failure page. Sometimes there’s a critical comment on an evaluation, and that also makes it to the failure page. And, every so often, I review the failure page. I feel good that there are only 17 items on that page in 8 years of maintaining it, but some of them are doozies.

The outliers help me stay focused.

If all I did was look at trends or average evaluation scores, I’d pat myself on the back and ignore some very helpful feedback on improvement.  I suppose it might help to start a “success page” to look at some of the ultra-high points. Maybe that’s next.

In your work, or your leadership life, what do you do to look at the extremes to learn more about your work? What exceptional highs or lows have you experienced? Instead of chalking them up to luck, or noting them as exceptions to ignore because of their rarity, can you learn by measuring more than the average?

This post is part of a set of posts inspired by the Business Record’s “90 Ideas in 90 Minutes” event in September 2017. Learn more, download a pdf, and see all the speakers here.

Post 1: Leaders Develop Everyone
Post 2: Leaders Encourage Thinking “A Step Above”
Post 3: Leaders Ask “Does it Need to be Said?”
Post 4: Leaders Use Time Wisely: Rethink the Block
Post 5: Leaders Champion Inclusion and Diversity
Post 6: Leaders Stay Hydrated
Post 7: Leaders Make Changes Stick
Post 8: Leaders Engineer an Experience

2 Responses

  1. Amy
    | Reply

    Great post Alan! This also reinforces that idea of the Top 3/Bottom 3 exercise you outlined in a prior post. The bottom three don’t represent the average or the everyday, but you can learn a lot from them!

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