Think like a portfolio manager to improve your return on mission

It’s not just a job. It’s a portfolio. And you’re the portfolio manager.

I’m the kind of guy that can’t seem to keep my hands out of a lot of different things. If you’re like me, you know what I mean. You love variety. You love to start things. And you have more than a few things on your plate. You’re a venturer.

Think like a portfolio manager to improve your return on mission


So how do you balance your many interests? I’m not asking how you find the balance between work and rest or your other life responsibilities. I’m asking about how you give the proper weight to the ventures you’re pursuing as work?

You need to become a portfolio manager—over your mission.

On one of my annual planning retreats a couple of years ago I started thinking about my various ventures as a portfolio. Since each venture represented an investment of my time, it seemed to make sense to evaluate my return on mission, just as a investment manager evaluates the return on investment of a stock portfolio. Except in my case, I was asking: In what ways are each of the ventures I’m involved in contributing to my personal mission?

So I created a spreadsheet with each of the five commercial and non-profit ventures arranged in columns. (To be in the portfolio, an activity must be aligned with my personal mission and require a sustained commitment of time throughout the year.) For each venture in the portfolio, I tracked the average amount of time per month I spent on the activity in the last year, the positive returns (the ways it contributed to my mission or exceeded my expectations), the negative returns (the ways in which it required more attention than I had planned), and the changes I needed to make in my approach or allocation of time between the activities.

The first year I did this was an eye-opener. I hadn’t realized how much time I was allocating to pursuits that were no longer aligned with my personal mission. Somehow, the simple act of arranging these pursuits side-by-side and evaluating each in light of its return on mission made me realize that I was doing a disservice to my mission by not better managing my portfolio. So, as painful as it was, like a good investor, I had to let go of some longly held pursuits in favor of investing my time and energy in ventures that have a higher return on mission.

While I might be a little “venture-happy,” I’m convinced this approach can be helpful even if you don’t consider yourself an entrepreneur. After all, in a very real way, we’ve all been made managers over the portfolio of talent we’ve been given. “‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back’” (Luke 19:13).

How do you evaluate your return on mission?

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2 thoughts on “Think like a portfolio manager to improve your return on mission

  1. Leary, This is one of your better articles and one that I would like to see developed into a proprietary tool for venture leaders. It could be in a manual or on a website but I know the process would be valuable for any leader who has multiple interests and ventures


    • Thanks Jack. I know it’s been very helpful for me to go through this exercise. Maybe you can help me develop it further with all the great work you’ve been doing in leadership development. 🙂

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