Leadership by the Numbers

Data is the beginning of wisdom, not the end. I’ve had the privilege to work in environments that exuded teamwork and inspiration, as well as those that created a culture of fear. I’ve seen numbers neglected and overemphasized with failure resulting in either case. A few considerations can help those who must lead by numbers hit their target while avoiding employee casualties.

1. Communicate Clearly

Lack of communication or ambiguous communication breeds uncertainty and fear. Most leaders assume they over-communicate; however, followers often feel uninformed. The latter proves the former wrong. Knowing the critical numbers, why they are important, and how to hit them is essential to success. This means regular updates, vision casting, team meetings, and check-ins as well as informal and written communication.

“Leadership demands communicating a clear vision and goals, encouraging your team to collaborate on the strategic plan, and then inspiring followers to deliver on specific outcomes.” (Booher, 2017, p. 19)

2. Invest in People

Ultimately, numbers don’t hit numbers. Mehregany (2014) acknowledged the significance of innovation and lamented several tendencies of leaders in its pursuit: overconfidence in the ability to innovate, overreliance on high intelligence workers for quick results, and avoidance of long-term training because results are less measurable.

“Perhaps the most transformational thing a company can do for its workforce is to invest in creating jobs and working environments that unleash intrinsic inspiration.” (Garton, 2018)

The next innovative idea will come from a person who has been educated, equipped and empowered. When leaders prioritize such development of their followers, the overflow of that investment will be more difficult to trace but no less tangible.

3. Morale Matters

Thory (2013) identified the practical significance of emotional regulation: “In workplace studies, emotion regulation has been explored in conjunction with factors that trigger emotional responses, such as organizational and job stressors; processes, strategies, and abilities in emotion regulation, and the effects on mental health, work strain, job satisfaction, and performance outcomes” (p. 5). If we take the example of a workplace that holds 15-20 employees, we can notice that being a small business, perhaps, they might pay close attention to the employees in their workplace. But do they tire them in such a way that employees feel burnout? Being a small workplace, it comes with its own challenges that include overtime and additional responsibilities. However, that does not mean employees are treated poorly. Occasional incentives (like these bulk gift cards, for example) and words of encouragement can motivate them to stay in the organization and give their best to the work. Leaders who are oblivious to morale are dangerous. Leaders who are apathetic to morale are dangerous and toxic. You can rest assured that if morale is in the tanks, the numbers will be soon as well. So it’s always best to watch out for the signs of toxic leadership (you can delve deeper into this at https://www.tilt365.com/Blogs/ArticleID/18/4-Clues-to-Identify-a-Destructive-Leader) and take conscious steps to control it.

4. Attunement, not Alignment

Goleman (2013) argued that leaders should strive for attunement instead of alignment to the vision. Having a vision statement is one thing, but “people need to see, feel, and touch the values and the vision of the organization to make these abstractions meaningful” (Goleman, 2013, p. 220). Alignment is forced and bypasses buy-in. Why would leaders settle for mere compliance when they could seek shared vision and passionate performance?

Leadership by the numbers isn’t necessarily negative. Leaders who only look at the bottom line while ignoring the unseen metrics of communication efficiency, follower development, morale, and buy-in may be leading by the numbers, but they aren’t leading well. In the final analysis, numbers are more a byproduct of investing in people than the means of ensuring success.


Booher, D. (2017). Communicate like a leader: connecting strategically to coach, inspire, and get things done. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Garton, E. (2018). The Case for Investing More in People. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/09/the-case-for-investing-more-in-people.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2013). Primal leadership: Unleashing the power of emotional intelligence. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

Mehregany, M. (2014). If You Want Innovation, You Have to Invest in People. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/10/if-you-want-innovation-invest-in-people.

Thory, K. K. (2013). Teaching managers to regulate their emotions better: insights from emotional intelligence training and work-based application. Human Resource Development International, 16(1), 4-21. doi:10.1080/13678868.2012.738473

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Chris Dunn
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