Creating Effective Goals in Leadership


Creating Effective Goals in Leadership


Greg Acton shares an evergreen post on setting your goals in leadership to ensure effective, and not merely expected, results.

The capstone ROTC class is titled, simply, “Leadership.”  Mine was taught in 1998 by CAPT J.A. Fischbeck, a nuclear-trained former skipper of the USS La Jolla (SSN 701) and later the director of the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory.

Our final exam was to write an essay on the topic “Do you get what you inspect, or expect?”  I chose the latter, and wrote an essay on the power of setting clear, high expectations and demanding people be accountable to them.

It was too easy, I argued, for mere inspection to devolve into a checklist mentality.  I had been on board a submarine – I think it was the USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723) – as a midshipman when its computer emergency scrammed the nuclear reactor quite unexpectedly.  Someone had gotten complacent filling out a routine inspection form, and hadn’t noticed an unsafe condition develop*.

It was an… interesting… experience.  Subs are usually trimmed for slight negative buoyancy and controlled with diving planes; without propulsion an already submerged submarine will slide backward into the depths while the operators scramble to bring the emergency electric propulsion online.  The backup to the backup is an emergency blow, which we did not have to perform that day.

Also, I had been inculcated early on by Mark Stehlik’s words in the first day of 15-127, echoed by every professor up through the 400-level operating systems class whenever anyone asked about specs for an assignment: “Your program should just do the right thing.”

Alas, my answer was not what CAPT Fischbeck expected.  I was called to his office, and queried for half an hour to ensure I was sufficiently enamored of checklists and inspections.  After a bit of reflection, I was awarded an “A”.

Inspection is a critical part of management, and often one of the least well understood.  In many cases, what’s being measured isn’t the actual behavior or outcome you want, but a proxy.  If people can figure out how to deliver the metric for less cost than doing the desired behavior, they will commit arbitrage.  Measuring reality real-time instead of before/after proxies is is both a promise and a peril of the coming IoT.

As a leader, you must understand and anticipate this arbitrage – ideally even design systems which produce quality the first time because they cannot be completed incorrectly (poka yoke).

Because when (not if) your followers commit arbitrage, it’s usually not just a moral issue: it’s also a failure of design and leadership.


Key points include:

  • What’s measured vs what’s desired
  • Scandalous behavior
  • Manipulating data


Read the full article, Leadership: Do you get what you inspect or expect?, on GregActon.BlogSpot.