Imagine you’re at a job interview.

You’ve just finished your last run through your mental notes, polished your career story, and walk in confidently to meet your future boss. You’ve prepared for questions you expect to start rolling in, only to be thrown for a loop.

Without saying a word, she wraps a tape measure around your skull, takes note of the circumference, and starts feeling for bumps.

This is called phrenology–the belief that measuring bumps on the skull can predict mental capabilities–and it may not have been too farfetched 100 years ago, when scores of people still believed in this now-debunked theory.

Next time you start a performance management cycle at work, I want you to think of this phrenology example. Because it’s likely that, to assess the value of your contribution, your company is using a similar 100-year-old model built on 100-year-old beliefs that oppose most evidence-based research today.

Industrial engineer Frederick Taylor wrote The Principles of Scientific Management in 1909, and most performance management systems today are built from the same principles (intended to make paper mills run more efficiently) he outlined in his book.

Taylor’s model is about ensuring perfect execution, but knowledge workers today don’t really execute anything. An effective 21st-century leader prioritizes growing an organization’s capability–not necessarily this week’s output–which often results in a short-term dip before things take off. This means learning through controlled failure, but the grip of quarterly KPIs inherently discourages anyone from taking risks that could 10x a business in time, just not by the end of this quarter.

If you really think about it, the concept of individual goals and KPIs in just about any white-collar environment is asinine. Sales is the one field I can think of that may have a linear relationship between effort (number of calls made, which is entirely within one’s locus of control) and results. Maybe KPIs serve a motivational purpose there. But in the vast majority of office environments, there is literally nothing an individual can make happen without dependencies. Forcing individual KPIs into what should be collaborative, team-based objectives only serves to create internal competition and ultimately culture-killing behaviors that make for a shitty place to work.

That’s why in every ‘corporate’ role I’ve had, I haven’t spent a minute worrying about my individual objectives. I’ve never seen myself attached to any particular organization, and therefore never felt dependent on their subjective evaluation for my ability to thrive.

I hadn’t really ever defined this concept in my head until I listened to Josh Kaufman (author of The Personal MBA)  as a guest on a podcast:

There are certain brass rings that, if you decide to pursue them, you will be actively making your life worse in ways that you care about. Before committing to something, ask… is this really going to improve things, or is this something that feels enticing because of millions of years of human psychology and evolutionary development, but in the end will lead to an outcome I don’t want. You have to set your own scorecard.

Set your own scorecard.

It’s what I’ve always done intuitively, but Kaufman’s framing gave it real life within me. And as a result, I have actually created my own scorecard for how I’m doing as a leader in any given role.

Here’s how I evaluate my own performance:

1. How many team members (especially lateral or subordinate) keep in touch with me after we no longer have a formal working relationship?

This is #1 for a reason. Whereas the majority of “high achievers” according to Taylor’s model spend 80% of their time managing upwards and see their reports as working for them in their self-interested pursuits, I’ve always believed my accountability as a manager is first and foremost to those I lead. People will obviously do their best to maintain a relationship when their paycheck depends on it, but I take communication after that (when one or both of us has progressed from that position or organization) as a signal that I was able to add value to their lives during our time together.

I recently did some digging and found that, over the course of my career, I’ve managed 46 people for some length of time. Within the past 12 months, I‘ve gotten a text, phone call, email, or LinkedIn message from 26 of them. I take a lot of pride in that, and I’ll continue to focus my accountability on those I lead to try to keep growing that number.

2. How often do I change my mind?

I’ve written before about how everyone agreeing with the boss is a telltale sign of a terrible leader. A great leader should be genuinely curious to learn from their teams, and inevitably, the more one encourages challenges to his own thinking, the more often one’s views will change.

I try to take note of how frequently I change my mind about an idea, a direction, a methodology, or a process based on inputs from my teams. If I do this regularly, it signals to me that I’m creating an inclusive work environment and am displaying the self-awareness necessary to combat my biases and blind spots. The ability and willingness to change one’s mind should be valued and praised. It is to our collective detriment that more people and organizations don’t see it this way.

3. How often do I challenge a status quo?

Judah Folkman was a physician and scientist who first came up with the idea of blocking blood flow to tumors in 1971. For the next 30 years, he was mocked in the medical science community, until his approach was widely adopted in the early 2000s as the new standard. Before his death in 2008, he was interviewed about how he kept going: “There are no experts of the future. You can always tell a leader from the arrows in his ass.”

Going along with the way things have always been done is easy, and doesn’t require leadership. When I finish a role or a project, I always try to reflect and see how much I challenged the conventional wisdom of the culture I was in. Ironically, this can often directly oppose satisfying my actual (company) performance review, but I’m clear with myself on which scorecard I value more.

4. How clearly and specifically do I define problems?

There’s a little exercise I do with my team every time I start a new project. After everyone has sufficient information on the task at hand, I have each team member individually write down a single statement that defines the problem we are trying to solve. We then read these aloud, and I’m always surprised at how much these problem definition statements vary (which is often the case even well into a project).

In a digital marketing role, for example, getting more people to open your emails isn’t a great definition of a problem. You really want to find a way to create more engaging content, or tailor content to specific segments, or communicate at the optimal time via the right channel as a means to result in more people opening your emails.No matter the context, I believe one of my biggest responsibilities as a leader is to guide the team to define the right problem by asking great questions, and then ensure we stay focused around that problem definition throughout the project. The more overlap there is, the better I’m doing.

5. How uncomfortably do I show up for people?

It’s easy to be nice in an organization. Like a creek trickling freely down a mountain, we all have a natural pull toward the path of least resistance. In most cases, that means avoiding conflict at any cost.

But the mark of a great leader is one who is willing to stand up for a team member even in the face of personal discomfort—in other words, being kind (doing what is best for the team member) rather than nice (doing what is easiest for you).

It’s a good start to praise in public and criticize in private, but truly showing up for people goes beyond that. When you’ve built the bridge of trust and your people know you have their back, it is a subtle, unspoken force that comes through loud and clear in a manager relationship (and often plants the seeds for a lasting relationship—see #1 above). When you’re willing to catch bullets for people, they know. And when you’re not willing to, you better believe they know that even more.

6. Am I more John Stockton or Karl Malone?

As a leader in an organization, assists per game is always more important than scoring (basketball is a different story, which I love to discuss with anybody interested). Karl Malone was a two-time MVP, 14-time All-Star, and earned one of the game’s all-time great nicknames (The Mailman) for delivering 25 points per game throughout his career.

But a good chunk of his baskets (estimated to be around 40%*) were orchestrated by teammate John Stockton, who happens to be the NBA’s all-time leader in career assists. The Stockton-to-Malone connection terrorized the NBA for most of the 1990s; only superhuman efforts from the G.O.A.T—Michael Jordan—kept the Utah Jazz from winning multiple championships.

This is a paradox that few organizations get right: the skill set required to get to a position of leadership (80% Malone), is often counter to the skill set required to excel in a position of leadership (80% Stockton). You need superstars like Malone to deliver great work, but effective leadership is about setting the stage for everyone else to be a superstar.

* most of their careers were before the NBA started tracking play-by-play data in 1996-97

7. Am I always the highest bird in the sky?

This is more of a piggyback to the Stockton-Malone metric, but when I see someone I formerly managed go beyond my “level” in an organization, whether internal or external, I believe it is a valuable data point to how effectively I lead.

Like conditional love, any manager wants success for those they lead, because they can take credit for the wins produced ‘below’ them in an org chart. The managers to behold are those who don’t only take a selfish interest in your success, but are happy to see you fly high, even if you ultimately soar higher than them. This is why I never try to measure my success comparatively, but rather stick to my own scorecard, so there are rarely ever conflicts of incentive.

8. How much fun do I (and my team) have?

Perspective is too easily lost when facing work stress, but it’s worth staying mindful of the fact that we spend around 40% of our conscious hours at work. If my team is not enjoying their day-to-day, if we aren’t laughing and more often than not enjoying the time we spend together, what’s the point? In that case, there’s no amount of performance review praise or personal incentive that can keep me in a place.  

It takes a decent level of self-awareness to detect this among your team. Signals I look out for include how often my team members lean-in to me, whether that means sharing some personal hobby or inviting me for drinks after work (which, by the way, a self-aware leader should never initiate, so as not to make team members feel social pressure to succeed at work).

That’s it.

These are the eight metrics I use to evaluate myself, and if I am doing well on these, I couldn’t care less what my “official” performance reviews look like. And there are a few simple reasons why:

1. If the goal is leading and you are working with high-potential people, the behaviors above will generally lead to whatever objective business goals being achieved anyway. I simply worry about what I have first-order control of (my behaviors) and not about anything else.

2. Organizations falsely assume that everyone wants the same thing: to “advance” in the company. In the new economy, we should all consider ourselves free agents. It is not farfetched that very soon, the majority of us will be selling our various forms of expertise on a project-by-project basis. Not every career stop on your journey is meant to be a lifetime sentence.

3. And it’s worth repeating: individual objectives in 99% of team-based, cross-functional projects are non-sensical to begin with. If an organization insists on quarterly objectives, make them team-based. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, it’s very easy for everyone involved to detect and address it.