Measuring value of a leader
Cal Newport makes a compelling point in his book Deep Work that in the absence of clear indicators of usefulness, knowledge workers hold on to busyness as proxy for the value they add. Busyness is a bug and not a feature. This is especially pronounced as you rise in the corporate ladder. Most leaders have their schedules packed with meetings, emails and “work on work”. This leaves them feeling vacuous as they have little to show for real output or work done. With tenacious pursuit of shallow work, core skills atrophy and fulfillment at work drops.
Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner. - Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (p. 64).
So what is the measure of success for leaders? I posit that it is the decisions that they make. The role of a leader is to be decisive, to make many decisions and to get a large portion of that right. Good leaders know when they need to optimize for speed vs. quality. They know who needs to be involved, whose input is needed and whose buy-in is needed. Good leaders also have a method for cataloging their decisions, so in due course they can reflect and learn.
The second trait of good leaders are that they are creators. They produce something everyday. It could be a well crafted vision, a framework for thinking about things, an insightful note or even just a series of whiteboard sketches. In essence, they produce original work, often.
So if you are stuck in evaluating your own performance as a leader, ask (1) what were the decisions you made this week? (2) what was the last piece of original work you produced? If you are struggling to answer these, then you might be making the mistake of assuming that your busyness demonstrates your value.
Few good articles
A habit that I am steadily picking up is reading and taking notes on articles outside my areas of competence. It feels like a light brain workout. In that vein, three things caught my attention:
This incredible story of how a series of failures made ARM what it is today.
This lucid, humorous and gripping no math gentle introduction to quantum mechanics
These 10 weird things that I did not know about Milky Way. And in Buzzfeed style click bait invitation - "#3 will drag you in"
Notes to my younger self
Series of notes on multiple topics that if I go back in time, I will share with my 20 year old self. A snippet below.
A dangerous idea from the financial world is the notion of “net worth”. Mathematically, net worth is the difference between your financial assets and financial liabilities. However the obsession with money causes people to think of it as the success measure their lives, much like GDP has become the success measure for nations.
A tiny bit of introspection will expose the ridiculousness of the idea that the success of your life can be condensed into digits in bank accounts. Yet the effect of this realization is transient and does not dissuade most from the endless quest to make more. In that race to go higher in this artificial wealth scoreboard, people sacrifice their health, time with their loved ones, hobbies and mental peace.
As you go through your life, be financially savvy, negotiate the right salary, earn more than you spend. However, beyond that, don’t spend an iota of time thinking about your financial scorecard. It is not just a waste of time but it is harmful. It causes you to make some really bad trades. You will trade your time for a higher place in that artificial scorecard. You will trade your life for a race that was happening only in your mind.