Vanity Metrics Vs Real Metrics

Back in 2003, I had just joined the Indian Navy. I was only 17 yrs old and quite intimidated by everyone and everything around me. It was the very first time that I was truly alone and would have to fend for myself. Let me tell you, for a Bengali boy sheltered all his life by his parents this is literally the toughest thing to do. I could go on stage and perform wonderfully, pass the toughest exams, but learning how to stock my cupboard, clean my own clothes, sew my own socks was new. Don’t get me wrong, I actually liked that sort of work, just that I was not really prepared for it.

Seniority is everything in the Navy. We were the freshly joined first termers, the so called “cream of the nation, but scum of the Navy”. The holy sixth termers, the guys who were just about to pass out were literally the Gods as they had their own cabins and enjoyed life. Or so I thought until I became a sixth termer myself and realised that the tyrannies of life extend to all positions. Now, the first 14 days after the cadets join, they are not touched by the other termers except in grave circumstances. Only after these 14 days are over, do the fangs really come out!

On our first day, the Squadron Captain and Squadron Adjutant were sorting out the new cadets into who they wanted in their teams. The squadron captain was a flamboyant Jat who regularly topped the cross country races and was an amazing athlete himself. (“Jat”, by the way, is a term in itself in the Armed Forces!) The adjutant was a very different person. He was sedate, calm and not such a trailblazer. He had come up the ranks and was older than the rest of the cadets who had passed exams and joined as an officer directly.

As it happened, they used two very different methods to select their team. The Captain was choosing based on sheer physical performance. The adjutant, actually spent a lot of time talking to the cadets before choosing them. We were sweating it out on the bars and ropes hoping to get selected in the Captain’s team, which was the flashier one. The adjutant made some surprising choices. Some mild mannered, some guys who looked like they were never going to be the best cadets were chosen. One thing to know about the Navy is that never mind how many credits could be earned by doing well in academics or curricular events, the only thing that earned glory was doing well in sports. Hence, we were surprised at the choices the Adjutant had made.

Over the next three years, long after the Captain and the Adjutant were gone and newer people had taken over their roles and cycle continued, I noticed how their choices had panned out. The guys who were chosen based on just physical performance were performing significantly poorer than the ones who were chosen basis their attitude and overall skill sets. The Adjutant had identified the folly in going for short term glory and had focused on the maths behind the metrics. If you wanted your team to succeed, you would need to look at academics, debate, quiz, other than the glory hogging cross country races.

Such is life. The wise look deeper before making their choices. It is easy to go with the tide and make your choices to please the lowest common denominator. It is wise to look at what is really important and separate the substance from the smoke. Many things look great in the first look. Top line revenues, traction on your ads on Facebook, the number of followers you have, awards you’ve won. What really matters is profits+growth, real leads generated through your ads, the number of people you’ve inspired or mentored. My learning from the first thing I saw the first leader do in my first job was to focus on what really mattered.