…and how to measure how you’re doing.

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How Fast Did We Go?

My husband and I went out on our road bikes yesterday. He likes to know the data when we come back, how far and how fast we went. I have a Garmin, so I track it all (not obsessively mind you ;-)).

We both estimated pretty well the distance but we both under-estimated how fast we were going by a couple of miles per hour. He often has no idea but I usually have a sense of it-I was surprised because it felt as if we were out of condition-fewer rides in the winter, and also because I’d felt the pace to be ‘leisurely’. (aka extremely slow!)

Oh well, interesting we were so far out, but the pace itself has no real meaning for me. I ride by heart rate-keeping it under a certain threshold-which is why the pace usually feels ‘leisurely’ and I don’t pay a lot of attention to the other numbers other than occasionally to compare speed over certain routes and also to get a general idea how far we go and how long a certain mileage takes so I can plan new routes.

My objectives are to enjoy being out and about, and to keep a modicum of aerobic fitness.

Because I have a pretty good idea of the physiology, I know what measures are meaningful and which are less so, and I have zero interest in comparing myself to others through measurements like speed-whether actual or subjective.

The way I explain it to my clients when I use the tracking and measuring as an analogy for what what they are measuring is like this,

I use the data to help me calibrate what I already know-to fine tune my own discernment.

I’m not saying data should always be used like this, just to me, there is more joy in the doing, and less interest in my performance.

I know that the bigger purpose of ‘doing’ has no real destination. And, I also know that we will be more aligned with that, when we know what to pay attention to and what to ignore.

The Illusion of ‘Speed’

It’s easy to track things like heart rate, speed, distance, but it can be a lot harder to find meaningful measures in the leadership space.

Yes of course, we can all find something to measure (I’m a former economist-I can help you measure anything!), but what I find is that most people monitor their performance by how they feel-whether they feel busy, whether they feel like they made a meaningful contribution, or not.

This is just like my husband and me taking our initial impression of speed and making it mean something, without calibrating it against anything ‘outside’.

And so they tend to associate ‘busy’ with better, and ‘not busy’ with ‘not enough’.

Which would be like taking our impression of speed yesterday, rather than the actual speed, and then layering on a judgement that we are doing badly, or that it’s slower than some other random cyclist who passed us on the hill and therefore we are ‘failing’, or that someone else thinks it should be more, or less…

And, therefore, coming to the conclusion that we are worth less in some way than other people or than we could be.

Wow! That’s a big leap from a poor estimate of miles per hour!!

But it’s precisely what many of us do in other parts of our life, and it’s what could easily happen when you measure your value as a leader based on ‘how busy you feel’.

Meaningful Measures?

In life, as in leadership I think there are two places to look.

  • that deeper sense of where we’re aiming. Not just the ‘oh I want to have a nice bike ride’, but the sense that I am in relationship with another human and we are doing something together. Who that is, and what we do is less important than that we are together, connecting, being human having a good life.
  • an understanding of where it makes sense to calibrate, and where it doesn’t. I know enough about physiology to know what I want to tune in to when I’m cycling. In leadership, I find this is not so clear because we don’t always have a good understanding of the human machinery, how people work and what makes sense to measure and to listen to. We’re too easily thrown by the speed of some other cyclist, who also doesn’t understand the human machinery, or we measure the speed we think we’re going at, rather than actual speed, and therefore we go off down rabbit holes and we get caught up in ever-spiralling, pointless noise.

I guess this could be summed up by saying,

We had a nice time and, in unrelated news, it turns out we weren’t so great at estimating our speed yesterday.

So, go ahead and keep the focus on having your equivalent of ‘a nice time’, and, meanwhile, take care not to put too much emphasis on how you think you’re doing.

With love,


Cathy Presland
Related to this are two forthcoming events on what to make of how we think we’re doing, and then a deeper exploration of where we think we’re going in this thing we want called a meaningful life. You can find out more about these, and other free events, at this link.

Originally published at https://cathypresland.com on November 30, 2020.

What if making an impact was part of your everyday? Stories to light up your soul. Read more and free courses: https://cathypresland.com/find-out-more

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