Saturday, December 16, 2006

More Than Batting Averages

Today, I was looking for a quote in Michael Lewis' Moneyball. While searching around his book, I came across a different quote, something by Bill James from the 1979 Baseball Abstract.

"a hitter should be measured by his success in that which he is trying to do, and that which he is trying to do is create runs. It is startling, when you think about it, how much confusion there is about this. I find it remarkable that, in listing offense, the league will list first—meaning best—not the team with scored the most runs, but the team with the highest batting average. It should be obvious that the purpose of an offense is not to compile a high batting average."
Fortunately in baseball, success is well defined. In short, making more runs than the opposing team is success. While in the beginning of the game you may not know how many runs it will take to beat the opposing team, by the end of the game, you know who has won.

Of course, Mr James is talking about baseball players, batters in particular, but this statement started me thinking if the same kind of thinking applies to leaders and an organization’s success. If yes, what is the success by which we should measure leaders? What is a leader’s “Runs-Created” measure vs. their “batting average”?

The Leadership-Industrial Complex (LIC) would have you believe leaders should be measured by the number of willing followers or perhaps some measure of their satisfaction. Other LIC organizations would have you believe leaders should be measured by the lack of processes errors under their control. Still others would point to a leader’s renowned or charismatic persona. But all of these things run along the lines of batting averages.

Sure, you could argue that satisfied, willing followers generating few errors working for a popular boss positively contribute to an organization’s success. But, what is the contribution of these elements? More importantly, what is the correlation? Can you have one without the others and vice-versa?

Here’s my take. The things the LIC identifies with success: followers, satisfaction, persona, etc… are not causes; they are effects. Like the symptoms of a syndrome, their presence indicates the possibility that the organization is, for lack of a better word, suffering the effects of good leadership. However, the act of coercing, or at least attempting to coerce, these symptoms, the occurrence of these outcomes, does not make someone a leader. This is true if for only one reasons; it misplaces the organizations focus on these measures as opposed to the organization’s value proposition, its reason to exist.

Which brings us back to the answer to the question I started with, what is a leader’s Runs-Generated measure? Like James’ answer to baseball, my answer is simple. It should be obvious that the purpose of a leader is not to compile the soft measures espoused by the LIC. Rather, that which a leader is trying to accomplish is the delivery of the organization’s value proposition. The rest is just batting average.

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