IN BOB’S OWN WORDS…
How do you measure significance?
Originally published May 10, 2006
My friend, Peb Jackson probably knows more rich and influential Christians in business, politics, and entertainment than most anyone else I know. He’s one of the great networkers of all time. I once asked him why more successful people can’t seem to break the addiction to success and go on to the next season of their lives – what I call significance. He thought pensively and then answered, “They can’t measure significance. They are so used to measuring their lives in terms of money with the lines going upward and to the right. They just can’t stand to see the line going downward even if they are very rich.”
Life for most of us is built on a constellation of habits and the need for measurable results is one of the most deeply ingrained habits for successful people. Writer and skilled analyst George Gilder made this observation:
“Men lust, but they know not what for. They fight and compete, but they forget the prize; they spread seed, but spurn the seasons of growth; they chase power and glory, but miss the meaning of life.”
Hmmm, missing the meaning of life. Sounds pretty important. But how does one measure the meaning of life? Jim Collins spent three years thinking about this question. When we had dinner last October in Dallas, he told me that business-oriented people confuse money with mission. Good becomes the enemy of great. Here’s the way Collins put it in his brilliant self-published monograph, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great , which he handed to me that night.
“The confusion between inputs and outputs stems from one of the primary differences between business and the social sectors. In business, money is both an input (a resource for achieving greatness) and an output (a measure of greatness). In the social sectors, money is only an input, and not a measure of greatness.
“A great organization is one that delivers superior performance and makes a distinctive impact over a long period of time. For a business, financial returns are a perfectly legitimate measure of performance. For a social sector organization, however, performance must be assessed relative to mission, not financial returns. In the social sectors, the critical question is not “How much money do we make per dollar of invested capital?” but “How effectively do we deliver on our mission and make a distinctive impact, relative to our resources?”
As I have thought about my own life, I can see pretty clearly in retrospect what happened: In the season I call Halftime, mission became, for me, more important than money. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened. I knew there was something more and I began to seek for it. The more I focused on mission, the more it drew me forward. Peter Drucker, whom I met with two to four times a year in those Halftime years, always drew me back to a single question: “Yes, but to what end?” He taught me over and over “mission comes first” – then comes measurement. For a business, Peter always told me, “Profit is a requirement, not the objective of a business.” Think about it.
Bob Klitgaard, the President of Claremont Graduate University, where Drucker taught and where The Drucker Institute resides, wrote this as part of a tribute to Peter:
“On my desk, I keep the last two pages of a twelve-page letter Peter Drucker wrote to Bob Buford some fifteen years ago. The letter’s first ten pages gave advice related to the institution Bob was initiating. Those last two pages contained advice about Bob’s role as leader. Peter wrote about Bob’s being “the maker of policy and the designer.” He also mentioned quality control. “But as I tried to stress, your first role — or perhaps one of the two first ones — is the personal one. It is the relationship with people, the development of mutual confidence, the identification of people, the creation of a community. This is something only you can do.” Peter went on: “It is not something that can be measured or can be easily defined. But it is not only a key function. It is one only you can perform.”
I want to say more about how I convert “relationships with people” to a measurable outcome in a subsequent muse-letter. It’s the most important thing that I do and it is important to measure.
The 12-page letter that Bob references (in the above section) which was kept on the desk of Bob Klitgaard is full of leadership lessons.
- Is quality control important?
- What can only YOU as a leader do?
- How do you maintain a strategic focus?
One note: on the last page of the letter, Peter tells Bob, “I only hope I can make a contribution.” The word “contribution/contribute” is used 214 times in the Revised Edition of Management. People making a contribution to joint work is an important concept in Peter Drucker’s writing. Thankfully, Peter made a contribution to Bob’s work and Bob contributed greatly to our lives.