Student Paths founder Chris Wills

Student Paths founder Chris Wills

Cocktail leadership
By Father Time

Picture yourself on a desert island.
In the South Pacific.
With a cocktail in your hand.
Like where this is going? Since it’s February, it’s not too much of a stretch.
But inevitably, what starts to creep back into your brain? All the tasks you need to get done. Upcoming deadlines. How you need to be around to ensure your team hits the numbers. I’d love to go, but…

I’d be very curious to know what percent of vacation time is actually taken by leaders each year? 75 percent? 50 percent? My guess might even be lower.

When I talk to other leaders, I’m struck by their comments of feeling a lack of control, and that they don’t always feel they have a handle on what is going on in their school or organization. In turn, that causes them to feel like they need to work and be around more. Time disappears.

But what if there was a way to be on that desert island and still feel you knew exactly what was going on? There is, and we’ll call it cocktail leadership. And if it helps you get in the mood, feel free to sip on your favorite cocktail as you read along.

The key to cocktail leadership is first identifying your unique 5 to 10 key numbers that predict future success. Reactive numbers tell you what happened, and aside from doing something different next year, the ship has sailed and you have no ability to do anything differently to get the numbers back on track.

Predictive numbers, however, tell you where you are heading, and if that is a crash landing, you as the captain have time to chart a course correction to your desired destination.

The exercise, then, goes like this: If you were on that desert island in the South Pacific and a bottle washed ashore with 5 to 10 predictive numbers from your organization, which ones would you want to see to have a solid picture of how things were going?

Make a list, set it aside, and review it a day later. Really think about what numbers would give you a great understanding of what was going on in your office thousands of miles away.

Then put those numbers on a piece of paper and call it a scorecard (or the South Pacific scorecard if you’re so inclined). Track them weekly over 12 week intervals and review with your team every week.

Identify the ultimate goal you are trying to get to with each number, make sure a single person is ultimately accountable for each number, and have that person publicly report each week if their number is “on track” or “off track.”

If “on track,” no further discussion is needed. If “off track,” discuss the item as an issue in the meeting and work together to identify specific action items your team can do to get the number back on track toward the goal. If the number is truly predictive, this can happen.
If the number is off track again next week, follow the same process of discussing as a team and agreeing upon action steps to get the number back on track.

This model can and should be followed each week, regardless of whether a person is out of the office or not. That means you can know what is going on when you are sipping your cocktail in the South Pacific, and if something happens to be “off track,” you know your team has a process to follow to get it back on track by the time you get home.

If you want to have a fulfilling 2013 and save lots of time, email me at with the secret password COCKTAIL in the subject line and I’ll send you a sample scorecard that I use in my organization. I’m also happy to work with you to figure out what some of your key metrics should be so you can enjoy reading them on that island later this year.

Father Time, or Chris Wills, is passionate about helping other leaders learn and grow and free up time they didn’t think they had. He is the Founder of Student Paths, an organization that better prepares students for their future in college, career and life readiness.