27 JANUARY, 2017


As leaders, we’re so used to measuring the success of our teams, products and the organisation as a whole, that measuring our own success as leaders can be difficult. Knowing what it means to be a leader is one thing, but being able to implement that knowledge and receive measurable feedback on it’s efficacy is another kettle of fish.

In this article, we touch on a number of ways leaders can measure their own success as defined by a number of the world’s best business coaches, mentors and public speakers. Through their experiences we find that there are many options for the business leaders of today to look both forward and back over their work and find measures to define personal and entrepreneurial success.

Staff loyalty tells a lot about a leader

If your organisation is experiencing issues with high staff turnover or low retention, it could be an indicator of poor leadership performance, according to business coach Mack Story:

“High turnover rates are an indicator of a leadership problem at the top, not a followership problem at the bottom. Leaders are ultimately responsible for influencing turnover and retention. An organization cannot grow beyond the leadership ability of the top leader.”

Mack also identifies three key areas where good leaders excel. According to Story, high impact leaders:

  1. “Accept responsibility for what’s going on in their family, on their team, or in their organization.”
  2. “Intentionally allow good things to happen.”
  3. “Intentionally prevent bad things from happening”

Are your people following you? While some folks will always look for greener pastures from time to time, low staff attrition can be a great measure of successful leadership. Partly because you save the organisation time and money hiring and training new staff, but mostly because it shows you are a leader worth following, someone who is on point with their mission, and able to communicate with and inspire others.

Set your success milestones

Measureable success is about setting targets and meeting them. As leaders, we often run into new and tempting activities and methodologies that can distract us from the clear and present need to move forward with existing plans and strategies. For Lynne Cazaly, there isn’t any specific measure of success, but rather the ones that are set in context with your business objective:

“There’s that whole thought process that unless you set a target you’ll hit a bunch of other things on the way that may be well off target. They might be fun or new or pretty or tick a few boxes but they probably aren’t directly related to success. So some definition of ‘how will we know when we get there?’ would be helpful. Work that out first. Then when you get there you’ll know. And that would be success!”

Sometimes we get so caught up in the study of being the best leader that we can forget to actually DO leadership. Without milestones on your path to success, there’s really nothing to measure. So start setting goals that are relevant and achievable and you’ll be on a path to success in no time.

Imitation is flattery, but can you measure success by it?

If you’ve been in the business leadership game for a while, then you have access to one great measure of success that others might not… how staff emulate you as they move into leadership positions of their own.

Chris Halberg believes that “We all have such different scorecards when it comes to the definition of success,” but thinks that there’s no greater mark than the legacy we create.

Lookup former mentees or staff that have moved on, see if they’re on LinkedIn or other social media, or maybe just send them an email. Are they managing their own teams now? What’s their management style and beliefs like, and how does it make you feel to see them succeeding? As Chris says:

“All of those lives bettered and touched positively, that is way bigger than the corner office or a sweet parking spot a shitty leader covets.”

Success can be shared through meaningful reflection

Mentor and speaker Simon Waller prefers to focus on the shared purpose individuals and teams bring to their collaborations. For Simon, sales might be the big indicator of overall business success, but for the people that inhabit these organisations, there’s nothing more important than a team coming together to reflect and appoint new roles. He says: “My experience in large corporates was that most meaningful things are difficult to measure and most measures can be subverted if someone has the inclination to do so.”

Success can be measured through failure

For some of us, failure can be an all-consuming concern. In fact, fear of failure can be the thing standing in the way of our success, ironically leading to the very thing we fear.

For Chris Warner, author of High Altitude Leadership, how we react to failures both personal and across our teams is a measure of how we succeed:

“Your reaction to failure tells the world how much self efficacy you have. Successful teams look at failures as a chance to learn, to prepare themselves for even greater challenges.”

When your team hits a wall, how do you respond? Are you able to provide inspiration and guidance, or do you fall into a pit of negativity? Perhaps the best measure of your leadership abilities is in your capacity to rise when times are tough, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Measure success through the needs and accomplishments of your team

For international public speaker Brian Tracy, the true measure of success comes from the accomplishments of your team. “When stepping into a leadership role, the focus shifts from you and your needs to the needs of your team, so it’s important to get constant feedback from them to effectively evaluate your success,” he says.

Are your team members meeting individual goals?

Do they even have individual goals?

Measuring leadership success is more than just a personal journey, it is the story of your team. If you’re beating deadlines without having to grind out overtime every week then chances are you’ve got a good measure of success, and something that will translate among both leadership and staff.

Similarly, Irene Becker at 3Q Leadership Blog also touches on the accomplishments of the team as a focus for measuring leadership success:

“It’s not only financial results or measurable metrics, but I make sure these questions are answered. Are we improving our skills? Are we better this year than last year? Are we influencing more people to take action? Jim Rohn said, “Success is something you attract by the person you become.” I’ve adopted his philosophy.”

Measure success by doing what matters

Business coach Sonia Macdonald is reticent to focus on money and power as fixed measures of success. While a winning venture generally equates to more money, working inside of an organisation means you can’t always open up your banking app for reassurance that you’re on the right path.

And then there are times when we do work for nonprofits and charity. If we’re too focused on money and power in these situations, we’re likely to drop the ball.

Sonia, who works with LeadershipHQ, advocates measuring success by doing what matters within an organisation and looking to the significance that provides to others. Macdonald says:

“I measure my success in terms of the significance I create for those I work with.”

Take a personal audit of your accountability

“Profit is an outcome, not a cause of success.”

So says Fabian Dattner, founding partner of Dattner Grant. Having worked with numerous organisations on a wide variety of ventures, Fabian has found that measuring success can often be achieved by looking at what you’re accountable for and “Determining if it’s in a healthier state than when we found it.”

Think big picture about the strategy of now

Eric J. McNulty of Strategy+Business says “The best leaders meet short-term objectives while building long-term capacity and capabilities. Now is just a step towards a larger goal.”

Eric lumps KPIs, quarterly and annual goals and staff turnover rates among the short term objectives that fit into the Strategy of Now. He stressed that it’s important not to “Whittle away at mission and culture in order to feed the beast of now.”

He believes that looking forward and looking backward are just as important.

“Looking forward helps put the now in perspective,” Eric says. Looking backward is about “Looking at the lasting value of what you did in your role.”

What impact did you have?

What legacy did you leave behind?

On time and on budget

Perhaps the most concrete measure of our success as leaders is also the simplest. John Baldoni thinks measuring success as a leader is easy. We just have to ask ourselves these three questions:

  1. Did we achieve what we set out to achieve?
  2. Did we do it on time and on budget?
  3. What did we learn from the experience?

Effectively growing and improving as a leader

How do you measure your success as a leader? Do you look for concrete indicators in the data, or prefer to consult the team and get their personal feedback. Maybe it’s a combination of both?

However you choose to measure your leadership success, the most important thing is that you keep going, roll with the punches and keep moving forward.