Let me tell you about a type of question I often ask when working with leaders. It’s a question that seldom prompts a meaningful answer in return. I want to help you never make this mistake.

I am not a numbers guy. Words and ideas are my specialty, not numbers. When it comes to statistics, I need simple and clear. I need what I call “crayon numbers,” stats that are big, bold, and revealing. This is the kind of information that helps me act, that gives me what I need to chart a course. Any other approach makes my eyes glaze over.

This is why when I’m working with leaders, I often ask for the big fat numbers that tell the tale. If I’m talking to a pastor in a given city I will commonly ask how many people are in the city, how many attend churches, and what the racial breakdown is. If I’m talking to the head of a construction firm, I ask how many new starts there were last year or how many more people moved into the region in the previous 24 months.

What I’m looking for are the simple numbers that give me a type of GPS for the leader’s location. I’m also checking to see if the leader knows the basic numbers that define his or her challenge. I want, as my friends in the military often say, a “sitrep”—a situation report.

You just wouldn’t believe how rarely I get it. More often than not, I find that leaders and their teams do not know the basic stats that define where they are and what they should be targeting.

Let me stick with pastors for a moment. If a pastor cannot tell me how many people are in his/her city, what percentage of the population attends church, what the racial breakdown is, how many people are moving to the area, and perhaps broad income categories for the folks in his city, then this pastor just isn’t being strategic.

All I’m asking for is a handful of numbers, but they are the kind of numbers serious leaders should know off the top of their heads. They should make sure they rehearse them with their staff and mention them from time to time when preaching. This gets everyone aligned on what the target should be for a thriving, outreach-oriented, “happening” church.

I’ve flown often in military aircraft and so I’ve frequently heard a lead pilot give this order: “Nav, say numbers.” It’s military shorthand for “Navigator, tell us the significant numbers for what we are doing.” The navigator will then give all the numbers you can imagine: speed, time to destination, and a bunch of stuff I never did understand when they said it. The pilot knows, though, as does the entire crew, and these numbers inform all decisions for a successful flight.

This is what I want you to know. Do you know the basic handful of numbers that tell you where you are and where you’re going, that tell you how much you should grow in the next twelve months and what the possibilities are? I’m not asking for spreadsheets. I’m not asking for a thousand numbers on a sheet. I’m asking you to have in your mind five or ten all-purpose, vital numbers. You’ll be a better leader if you do.

Now, have fun with this. Have contests for your staff. Define the Twelve All Important Numbers and send people out for a free lunch when they can name them all from memory. Update them when they change. Teach your team to define tactics and goals in terms of them.

I’m not a numbers guy. Maybe you aren’t either. But I am a leader and I can hold a dozen numbers in my head in order to be a success. You can too.