Stats Lie Pt 5: Stats, Shine, & Speed

7 Flares 7 Flares ×

We’re all attracted to shiny objects.  Some things just draw attention because they stand out and are a bit more flashy than others.  This phenomenon shows up in measurements too – some metrics have a real flash to them and carry an initial wow factor to them and in fact, the “shinyness” of some metrics or numbers can lead us to give something much more weight than we should when assessing overall effectiveness.

When you are evaluating talent or leadership potential, does one particular skill set get you more excited than other things?

About a year ago ESPN the Magazine ran an entire issue to “Speed” in Athletics.  One of the articles within that issue started off with the following quote:

“Speed always impresses, but few can outrun mediocrity.”
(Peter Keating, Feb 21, 2011)

The gist of the article was the way in which the recent use of statistical analysis (i.e. what was illustrated in moneyball) was illuminating the ways in which speed by itself was a very misleading quality or talent in assessing overall effectiveness and contribution to the team. One example was the surprising effectiveness of Chris Snyder, Pirates catcher and slowest man in the big leagues. Another example was the surprising overall lack of effectiveness of Vince Coleman, one of the baseball speedsters of my generation.

Coleman and Snyder provide a good contrast.  Coleman makes me think of a lot of the way organizations and ministries see leadership development and do leadership selection.  We sometimes can see one skill set that is producing immediate results and we can start to convince ourselves that they are the next go to people for the job.

In my world, those that can speak or teach up front are the ones that are seen as shiny objects. There’s plenty of people out there that have been promoted based on a surface level impressiveness.  As a result, we have a lot of leadership and ministry “Vince Coleman’s.” Not infrequently, once those people get in their new jobs that one skill set often isn’t enough and the other areas of deficiency sooner or later catch up to them if they’ve been leaning on one or two main talents to get by.  It’s a time honored problem in a lot of places where leaders get hired for a bigger job based on the success they had in another job that required a totally different skill set.  Success at one level doesn’t always translate to success on another.

Snyder reminds me of those leaders who don’t look flashy and don’t immediately impress, but the whole package is solid and results in long term impact.  While initial impressions might dismiss him as an impact player, a deeper and more reflective assessment reveals the true story.

Keating finished his piece observing, “Speed is cool. But sports don’t just reward inherent abilities; they reward the intelligent application of those abilities on the field of play.”

So context matters as does the maximization of skills and gifts within those contexts.

In leadership selection and development – let’s focus on overall impact and not just the flashy skill set and first impressions.

There’s something in this discussion that hearkens back to King David’s anointing as King when he was still a youngest child tending flock.  Samuel was drawn to the “shiny” thinking the more impressive looking men were the ones that God must want.  The Lord reminds him that while men look at the external, the Lord looks at the heart.  There was nothing “shiny” about David at that time, but there was a bigger story that made him the right person for what God was about to do.

What skill sets do you think are most deceiving?  How do you assess impact players at larger levels in the ways that lead to long-term fruit and effectiveness?

*This was initially posted on October 12, 2011, but it deserves a home in this “Stats Lie” series.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email