How about an inner scorecard?

Leadership  Learning
12 October, 2020

Stop relying solely on external metrics and develop an internal performance review for yourself

Many of you are likely preparing for mid-year performance discussions at work (at least those who follow a fiscal year calendar). And this year, these discussions are probably causing more anxiety as usual, given the uncertainties of the last six months. In general, the events of this year are making us ask a lot of questions and introspect on how to measure and define success, both for ourselves and for our organizations.

Right from school, one’s success is mostly defined by external scorecards – from exam results and report cards, to performance reviews at work, to social vanity metrics such as the car you drive, the clothes you wear and the house you live in. But does achieving all these external goals lead to a fulfilling and gratifying life? If yes, then why do many of society’s success stories struggle to find meaning and happiness? Why do so many high achievers suffer from low self-esteem and self-worth?

The fact is, we continue to measure ourselves by standards set by others because we haven’t made the effort to create our own. We end up chasing things like a certain balance in the bank or the next promotion on the ladder. When we achieve these long-awaited external milestones, we somehow don’t find the promised satisfaction or sense of self-worth.

So, this week, my message focuses on developing an inner scorecard, rather than relying solely on external benchmarks. How can you redefine the way you measure your own success?

The tug-of-war between external and internal

Warren Buffet discusses inner scorecards extensively in his biography, The Snowball. Describing the conflict between external and internal, he says:

The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard

The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard. I always pose it this way. I say: ‘Lookit. Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover?’ Now that’s an interesting question. Here’s another one. If the world couldn’t see your results, would you rather be thought of as the world’s greatest investor but in reality have the world’s worst record? Or be thought of as the world’s worst investor when you were actually the best?

Indeed, those are tough questions to answer! After all, we’re highly social beings. Over centuries of evolution, we’ve been hardwired to seek the admiration and approval of our peers. And now, in addition to our “real life”, we also have a digital life constructed around image-building, likes and comments.

There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting other people to think well of you – in fact, it can motivate you to accomplish great things. The problem arises when you start to define your worth and live your life according to their compass – rather than your own. This misalignment can cause you to compromise on your personal values, creating feelings of emptiness, unhappiness and loneliness.

Thankfully, the choice isn’t usually as stark as Buffet’s questions suggest. Most people can develop and adhere to an internal scorecard without having to sacrifice external validation entirely. Buffet himself is a good example, with a track record that is considered largely unblemished and praiseworthy. Of course, on several occasions he had to stand up to critics (including his company Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders) for acting by his internal code of conduct – instead of following the commonly-accepted mantra of maximising profitability at all costs. In the short term, Buffet’s actions were sometimes seen as inexplicable or bad business. In the longer term, however, he gained a valuable reputation for integrity.

Having an inner scorecard can transform the way in which we navigate the corporate world. In The Education of a Value Investor, Guy Spier explains that Buffet’s advice was a revelation for him: 

I began to realize just how much of my life I had spent measuring myself by an outer scorecard. I had always been so eager for people to like and respect me—to win the plaudits of my professors at Oxford and Harvard, to be seen as a successful investment banker and deal maker at D. H. Blair, to be admired as a top-notch fund manager. This neediness had inevitably led me astray.… 

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Buffett’s insight. After all, how many of the self-serving excesses and moral compromises that caused the financial crisis of 2008–2009 would have been avoided if mortgage brokers, bankers, and others had lived by an inner scorecard? As Warren helped me to understand, people too often justify their improper or misguided actions by reassuring themselves that everyone else is doing it too.

Create your personal metrics

You can build your internal scorecard along similar lines as a performance review. Start by defining the standards you want to live up to – these become your key performance indicators (KPIs). Here are a few questions for initial reflection:

  • What makes me feel fulfilled?
  • What characteristics do I want to embody?
  • Where do I want to allocate my time?
  • What are my core values, on which I never want to compromise?
  • What does success look like to me?

In his article on inner scorecards, technologist Avthar Sewrathan offers another set of questions to identify traits and routines that matter to you – and those that should perhaps be eliminated.

  • Am I being the healthiest and strongest version of myself?
  • Are there things that I continue to do, even though I know I should not?
  • Am I learning, growing and enjoying my work?
  • Do I feel connected to life?
  • Am I happy with my relationships and friendships?
  • How am I pursuing mastery in life?

Based on the above reflections, create a set of values, standards, priorities and habits that are of utmost importance to you.

Inner metrics for leadership mastery

Internal clarity also makes you a better leader. In an article published by Columbia Business School, founder of the Mentora Institute, Professor Hiitendra Wadhwa, who has pioneered thinking around “Inner Mastery-Outer Impact” elaborates: 

In the past, leadership has been almost exclusively an outer game. You say, you decide, you act—and you’re a leader. But ancient wisdom and modern science reveal a powerful truth: to get to our full potential in life and leadership, we need to first master our inner game—by becoming aware of the core energies that lie within us and learning to activate them in all we do. These energies relate to our thoughts, emotions, values, mindsets, and beliefs.

In other words, approaching leadership from the perspective of your inner metrics makes you more aligned, authentic and motivated. Wadhwa advises leaders to anchor in their core by reflecting on the following:

  • Purpose: Am I aware of and committed to my purpose, and have I translated this purpose into a clear set of goals?
  • Wisdom: Am I open to receiving truth in whichever form it comes, and am I centered emotionally so I can best serve my purpose?
  • Love: Am I deeply connected with the people around me and those I serve so that I am taking joy in their joy?
  • Growth: Am I open to new learnings and growth so I can awaken the untapped potential within me?
  • Self-realisation: Am I operating from the tranquil and joyful spirit that lies at the deepest level within each of us?

Evaluate your performance

With your KPIs in place, you can now assess how you’re doing. Give yourself a grade for each metric based on your recent performance over the past few weeks or months. For low-scoring areas, identify actionable next steps to improve your grade – just like you would in any performance review. Schedule periodic reviews to evaluate progress, so you can grow into the best version of yourself. 

Feel free to construct your inner scorecard however you prefer. Here are some excerpts from my scorecard:

Standard: Spend more quality time with my family

Grade: A-

Progress and next steps: The lockdown has been a blessing in terms of time I have been able to spend with my wife and three kids. I have been helping more with the kids’ homework, doing fun activities together and having great chats. I have not been able to spend that much time with my mother and so, I need to find ways to improve on that. 

Standard: Invest in learning new ideas or skills

Grade: B+

Progress and next steps: I have been learning a lot about purpose and have just completed a wonderful HBS online course by Professor Rebecca Henderson on Sustainable Business Strategy. I am completing a course on digital marketing. I am planning to spend some time over the next few months on improving my Hindi speaking and writing skills. 

Standard: Make a tangible difference to others’ success

Grade: B

Progress and next steps: I have been coaching a first time CEO and mentoring a few start-ups. While I feel that the discussions are on the right track, I need to be more specific on areas where I can support them, with clearer goals. 

Standard: Practice a healthier lifestyle

Grade: C

Progress and next steps: Post some of my health challenges last year, I am feeling much better. I had made significant changes in my food habits but the lockdown family feasting has reversed some of those changes. I have been taking daily morning walks with my wife (which has been wonderful for our relationship). I have increased my sleep to 6.5 hours a night. I need to add more yoga and strength building in my workout regimen. I also need to cut back on desserts again.

Living by your inner scorecard

When confronted with tough choices or ethical dilemmas, your inner scorecard offers an excellent reference point, helping to illuminate the way forward. What makes it incredibly powerful is that it hasn’t been imposed on you by someone else – these are your personal touchstones, and you’ve chosen to live by them.

Certainly, this is easier said than done, especially when your core values happen to clash with external benchmarks. It’s difficult to let go of the primary desire for approval from colleagues, relatives, friends and society in general. Try to remind yourself that if your choices aren’t aligned with your inner compass, then all the outer validation you get won’t make you happy or satisfied.

So, why not give it a try? Take some time to craft your inner scorecard to unlock deeper meaning, fulfilment and joy.


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