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Leading Indicators – Influence and Predict Outcomes

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Mon, Sep 11, 2023

In The Number One Function of Leadership, I shared this quote from Verne Harnish, “The fundamental journey of a growing business is to create a predictable engine for generating wealth as it creates products and services that satisfy customer needs and creates an environment that attracts top talent.”

The Number one function of a leader is the ability to predict.

Yet most leaders and managers are deficient in this ability.

The deficiency can be traced to their inability to recognize the value of leading indicators.

Leading Indicators – Two Characteristics

LAG VERSUS LEAD MEASURES - 4 Disciplines of ExecutionIn the 4 Disciplines of Execution, the authors begin the chapter on Discipline 2 with these words:

“The second discipline is to apply disproportionate energy to the activities that drive your lead measures. This provides the leverage for achieving the lag measures.

Discipline 2 is the discipline of leverage. Lead measures are the “measures” of the activities most connected to achieving the goal.”

Many leaders believe having metrics is critical. Unfortunately, metrics alone aren’t enough to predict your outcomes or future.

4_disciplines_of_execution_book-resized-600A lag measure(metric) tells you if you’ve achieved the goal, a lead measure tells you if you are likely to achieve the goal. A lag measure is hard to do anything about, a lead measure is within your control. In virtually every case, fixating solely on the lag measures fails to drive results.

Discipline 2, in the 4 Disciplines of Execution requires you to define the daily or weekly measures, which will lead to goal attainment. Each day or week, your team must identify what are their most important actions to drive these lead measures.

Your team creates a just-in-time plan that enables them to quickly adapt while remaining focused on the WIG (Wildly Important Goals, or Your One Thing).


Here’s the difference between a lag measure and a leading measurement.

4 Disciplines of Execution - Conventional Thinking vs 4DX PrincipleLagging Measure/Indicator: A lag measure measures the result you are trying to achieve. We call them lag measures because, by the time you get the data, the result has already happened; they are always lagging.

Lead Measures/Indicators: They foretell the result. They have two primary characteristics. First, a lead measure is predictive, meaning that if the lead measure changes, you can predict that the lag measure also will change. Second, a lead measure is influenceable; it can be directly influenced by the team. The team can make a lead measure happen without significant dependence on another team.

How to Select Leading Measures

One of the simplest examples for determining leading measures is achieving weight loss. Suppose you want to move from 200 pounds to 180 pounds. 180 pounds would be your WIG or One Thing. This is your lagging measurement which will reveal if you’ve reached your goal.

What are the lead measures that would accurately predict achieving this goal? What measures would predict, and more importantly can you influence?

man with a muscular body measuring his abs - lose weight seriesIf you chose diet and exercise, you’d be correct.

These two measures fit the first characteristic of being predictive: Reducing calories consumed and increasing calories burned actively indicates you’ll lose weight. Just as important, these two leading measures can be influenced by you. Achieve these two lead measures at the specified level; you will see your lag measure move when you step on the bathroom scale.

You might be saying, “So Doug, all you’re saying is if you want to lose weight, you should diet and exercise. What’s revolutionary about that?”

You’ve missed the point!

Close up of a woman standing on the scales in hospitalThere’s a massive difference between understanding the need for diet and exercise and measuring how many calories you’ve eaten and how many you’ve burned. The people who actually measure how many calories they’ve eaten and how many they’ve burned each day are the ones actually losing weight!

The trouble with leading measures/indicators is the difficulty in often determining what they are.

It’s easy to step on a scale to know exactly how much you weigh. It's difficult to find out how many calories you’ve eaten today or how many you’ve burned.

It takes real discipline to do it.

Leading Indicator Example

3 X 5 Index Card - Weight Goal - ActivitiesWhen I started as a sales manager in radio, predicting the outcome of each sales month's revenue was critical to my success. In An Index Card – Execution Discipline I shared how each salesperson developed their individual leading indicators which they monitored on the reverse side of a 3X5 index card.

For team success, I monitored the lagging and leading indicators together on a graph. The lagging indicator was sales sold; the leading indicator was dollars presented.

By monitoring the leading indicators for sales dollars presented, I could accurately predict how much we would sell since our closing ratio was a consistent 25%.

When dollars presented on a weekly basis went down, I would rally our team to focus on making more presentations with dollars presented to keep the focus on influencing our revenue achievement.

Two Primary Characteristics of a Lever - Lever we can move. When Lever Moves Rock Moves (Influencable - Predictive)Need help building Leading Measurements for your business? Let us help you influence and predict better outcomes!

To create an environment where everyone is inspired to give their best, contact Positioning Systems today to schedule a free exploratory meeting.

Growth demands Strategic Discipline.

4+Decisions+Assessment+GuideTo make any change, personal, professional, or organizational, you must know where you currently stand. Next blog we’ll share insights you can discover on where your business stands using our Four Decisions Needs Assessment.

Building an enduring great organization requires disciplined people, disciplined thought, disciplined action, superior results, producing a distinctive impact on the world.

Discipline sustains momentum, over a long period of time, laying the foundations for lasting endurance.

4Dx Cadence of AccountabilityA winning habit starts with 3 Strategic DisciplinesPriorityMetrics, and Meeting Rhythms.   Forecasting, accountability, individual, and team performance improve dramatically.

Meeting Rhythms achieve a disciplined focus on performance metrics to drive growth.

Let Positioning Systems help your business achieve these outcomes on the Four most Important Decisions your business faces:












Positioning Systems helps mid-sized ($5M - $500M+) businesses Scale-UP. We align your business to focus on Your One Thing! Contact to Scale Up your business! Take our Four Decisions Needs Assessment to discover how your business measures against other Scaled Up companies. We’ll contact you.

NEXT BLOG – First Step to Change -  Where Do You Currently StandEmmet-Fox-Quote-Where-you-stand-today-does-not-matter-it-is-the


Topics: leading indicators, leading and lagging indicators, 4 Disciplines of Execution, Prediction, Extraordinary Results, Influence

Challenges of Scaling Up a Business 







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Certified Gazelles Coach

Doug Wick, President

Positioning Systems


The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

- Priorities
- Metrics
- Meeting Rhythms

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