“What do you focus on?”

This is a broad and vague question with HUGE implications.

Think about your education. When you were in school, what did you focus on? Probably grades.

Think about your job. What do you focus on? Likely whatever you are measured against (e.g., sales, revenues, profits, articles written).

Think about when you played sports. What do you focus on? You probably focused on either team performance (e.g., wins) or individual performance (e.g., points scored).

We tend to focus on metrics that give us a sense of where we stand and how successful we are. In other words, we tend to focus primarily on outcomes.

But, what are outcomes? They are lagging indicators, which are a culmination of a whole host of things that come together to bring about the outcomes.

For example, grades, sales, profits, wins, and points scored are all a culmination of activities that drive these different outcomes. The activities that drive these different outcomes are called leading indicators.

For example, making a sale is a culmination of skill development (e.g., sales training) and effort (e.g., making phone calls) are both leading indicators.

Question:

If we want to improve our outcomes, is it better to focus on the lagging indicators (e.g., outcomes) or leading indicators (e.g., drivers of outcomes)?

For example, if we want to improve our sales numbers, is it better to focus on the sales numbers or success rate, or is it better to focus on skill development and effort? Which focus is going to set you up for greater success?

A focus on leading indicators is always going to lead to greater success than a focus on lagging indicators. Yet, how often do we overlook this?

In school, I always cared more about my grades than my study habits or learning the material in a way that it would actually benefit me.

Leadership Development

Let’s adjust the topic of conversation here and apply these ideas to leadership development.

If we want better leadership, what should we focus on?

Everybody, all at once: “Leading Indicators.”

But wait, what are the leading indicators of leadership?

Turns out that there are multiple different levels of leading indicators.

The Leading Indicators of Leadership Development

So, let’s start at the top: What is the primary driver of leadership effectiveness?

First-Level Leading Indicator of Leadership Development

Leadership behaviors, or what leaders do.

This is approximately 90% of what all leadership development focuses on: what do leaders need to do to be effective.

But, is this the most leading of the leading indicators? No.

So, what is the primary driver of leaders’ behaviors?

Second-Level Leading Indicator of Leadership Development

How leaders think. Leaders behaviors are dictated by how they think and what they think about.

So, if we can improve leaders’ thinking, by nature, that improvement will lead to improvement in behavior.

This is approximately 9% of what all leadership development focuses on.

But, is this the most leading of the leading indicators? No.

So, what is the primary driver of leaders’ thinking?

Foundational-Level Leading Indicator of Leadership Development

How leaders see and interpret their world. Or, in other words, their mindsets.

How leaders see their situations and people shapes how they think about them, which in turn shapes how they behave in relation to them. In the end, the culmination of their mindsets, thinking, and behavior are what drives the effectiveness of leadership.

Mindsets are the most foundational element of how leaders (and really all people) operate. As such, it is probably the most important element to focus on in leadership development.

(If you would like to learn more about why I feel comfortable calling mindsets our most foundational element, check out this article: What Leadership Thought Leaders Have Gotten Wrong (for Centuries))

Yet, it is my estimate that only 1% of leadership development programs focus on leaders’ mindsets as a way to develop their leaders.

So What?

If organizations want to get the biggest return on their investment in developing their leaders, their primary focus should be on the most foundational element of leaders’ effectiveness: their mindsets.

Do you have a leadership development program? If so, do you focus on mindsets?

If so, let me know what mindsets you focus on and how you develop such mindsets. I would love to learn all of the different ways organizations are focusing on mindsets.

If you would like to explore doing some mindset work in your organization, check this out:

Organizational Mindset Report