A vision makes data make sense

Stan Soderstrom | Jan 25, 2022

Stan Soderstrom

Leaders are essentially judged by one question: Are things improving? Whether it’s an organization, a company or a local club, the verdict on a group’s leadership will ultimately be based on a sense of its overall direction.

But how precise is that “sense”? The answer to that question can often tell you whether a group is being guided by a general vision or bounced around by a chain-link of reactions.

Of course, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the issue — or crisis — of the moment. That’s only natural, and it’s not necessarily wrong. Immediate situations do need to be addressed. But the circumstance of the moment can also be misleading if it’s the only measure of how things are going. Whether you’re having a good or bad day, week or month, current conditions can obscure the big picture.

For a leader, the key is to stop and assess. How often do you pause for a moment to see where you are, compared to where you want to be? And is your assessment like stopping to put a finger to the wind — or a specific measurement of relevant factors?

In other words: How often do you stop to look at data?

Data. I understand if the word makes you wince. So many things can be measured these days that it’s easy to be skeptical of numbers. As a sports fan, I often find myself looking at statistics during a game on television and wondering how many of them can help me understand what I’m watching — and how many are calculated simply because they can be.

But I do believe in data. The trick is to know what you’re measuring it against.

More than 25 years ago, Stephen R. Covey published “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” The second habit, he wrote, was to “begin with the end in mind.” All these years later, I still find that a valuable habit to have.

If you’ve started down a road knowing where you want to arrive, you’ll have a better idea of how well you’re progressing along the way. That’s especially true if you have a legitimately measurable goal. And the best way to measure that progress — and to communicate the state of things both to fellow leaders and to those you’re leading — is to stop and assess.

At Kiwanis International, our Achieving Club Excellence (ACE) program gives resources to local Kiwanis clubs for measuring key criteria. For example, there’s a club scorecard, as well as an “Analyzing your impact” tool — among several others.

It’s a way of making assessment part of the organization’s culture. We want our club leaders to ask important questions: Are you accomplishing your goals? Should you continue toward them, or stop and establish new ones?

Good leaders welcome the answers, regardless of whether they’re happy to hear them. But the best leaders have a vision to begin with — and goals that help them interpret those answers in ways that guide their subsequent steps.


Stan D. Soderstrom is the executive director of Kiwanis International and the Kiwanis Children’s Fund. His background includes global and community-based work in the public and private sectors.


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