Gut Check: Do You Hustle As a Leader?

Vince Molinaro, Ph.D. Blog

I’ve searched the world over for solutions to the leadership accountability crisis that grips so many organizations. Recently, I came to an unusual but compelling conclusion.

Maybe we all need to think of business leaders more like professional athletes.

The world of sports has always put a high value on measuring the performance of players and teams. In recent years, this obsession with statistics has become exceedingly sophisticated.

No matter what the sport, athletes are always measuring their performance, from a baseball player’s batting average (hits as a percentage of total at bats), to a hockey player’s shooting percentage (the number of goals as a percentage of total shots), to the number of times a golfer hits the fairway (balls in the fairway as a percentage of total drives).

Companies already measure leaders in similar ways. How good are you at driving top line growth? Can you hit your margin and EBITDA targets? What do your customer satisfaction or employee engagement scores say about your performance as a leader?

However, many of the really critical qualities that make for successful athletes and business leaders are intangible: heart, drive and determination, an ability to persevere through disappointment and setback. We know these qualities are real, but they generally defy mathematical measurement.

But that could be changing.

Last summer, the National Basketball Association (NBA) began an experiment in collecting “hustle stats.” The pilot program was so successful, it used this new system to measure the hustle of players in the NBA playoffs. The results were fascinating.

Knowing that the term “hustle” is very subjective, the NBA identified a number of actions performed by its players that would be considered evidence of hustle: contesting or deflecting a shot, drawing a charge, recovering a loose ball, and the number of times a player sets a screen for a teammate that goes on to score a basket.

Each of these actions are assigned a fraction of a “hustle point.” Add up all the hustle points, and you get an overall “hustle rating.”

The moment I read about that, I had to wonder: could you develop a hustle rating for leaders? Being able to hustle effectively is just as important in the business world as it is in professional sports.

In business, leaders must hustle to drive the success of their organizations. They must be able to sacrifice and inspire to make the people they lead better in every way. And to me hustle is one of the key qualities lacking in unaccountable leaders. Instead of hustling, these leaders wait to be told what to do, are not proactive, don’t initiate priorities, avoid conflict and ask for permission.

Here’s a quick list I brainstormed for an overall leadership hustle metric: the number of times a leader confronted underperforming or misbehaving employees; the number of times the leader challenged a sacred cow or the status quo in a company; the number of times a leader had tough conversations on critical business issues; and the number of other people that a leader has groomed and in turn promoted by the company.

Too often, leaders are measured by fairly simple and two-dimensional statistical categories, most of them related to “bottom line” financial results. This is important.

Now if an organization makes money, and continues to make more money quarter after quarter, we consider that to be evidence of good leadership. But most of us know that profitability – as important as it is – is not the final word on the performance of leaders.

But like in basketball, a lot of success of a company is driven by accountable leaders who hustle. There are currently no clear metrics we can use to measure leadership hustle. But that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine what they might be. In fact, I would suggest we already have a good sense of what leaders who hustle do every day.

This leader would be a true role model for everyone in the organization, someone who works hard and inspires others to do the same. These leaders would not tolerate mediocrity, and would be willing to confront and motivate laggards. They would also be willing to support the ideas of the smart people around them in pursuit of greater organizational success.

If we want to drive real leadership accountability, maybe it’s time we start measuring the extent that leaders hustle.

This week’s gut check question: do you hustle as a leader?

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