Sep 7, 2021 | Leadership

I recently completed a leadership course taught by Dr. Ronald Heifetz, Founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University. I took the Harvardx course to audit it for a client who wants to develop their high-potential employees. Not only did the course offer ways to mobilize people to tackle tough problems, but it also helped participants build the capacity to thrive through the complexities of change.

In his closing lecture, Dr. Heifetz told this personal story on the myth of measurement.

Years ago when my children were little, my parents came to visit. My father was one of the great brain surgeons of his time. He invented many of the instruments that are used in neurosurgery. So, in his lifetime he saved thousands of people’s lives.

When he retired from medicine, he went back to a childhood hobby. He always loved the stars and he thought he would introduce his grandchildren to the heavens. So, he went out and bought all the astronomy books he could find. But, he said to himself, ‘I don’t like any of these books.’ So, he wrote an astronomy book and sent it off to Cambridge University Press. They matched him with an illustrator and published his astronomy book, called A Walk Through the Heavens.

Soon after, the family had gathered at our house where a family friend was also staying. Since the friend was a teacher, I decided to give him a copy of my father’s astronomy book. I presented the book to the teacher when the family was gathered. When the teacher opened the book, he noticed that it was dedicated to all of the grandchildren in the family, including my two children, both of whom were standing close by.

The teacher turned to my father, the retired neurosurgeon and author, and asked him if he could borrow a pen. Everyone in the room assumed that the teacher was going to ask the author to sign the book. Instead, he got down on his knee, opened the book to the dedication page, and asked my two children to sign the book.

I looked at my father to see his reaction and saw the beginning of tears in his eyes. “I realized that 40 years of saving lives could not be measured against the meaning of that moment.”

In the business world, we get caught up by measuring ourselves – KPI’s, OKR’s, performance ratios, etc. – but, in the end, you can’t measure impact. One of the ways to prevent burnout is to free yourself from the myth of measurement. Take time to remind yourself of the good you are doing that’s beyond measure. Give yourself permission to take pleasure in the lives you’ve touched, the light you turned on in someone else’s eyes, the elevator button you pushed back down so that others can grow.

Question: What are some ways to buoy yourself when you feel you’re not making measurable progress?

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