It’s Simple: Leadership is Discipline
Thoughts on Leadership—Part 3 of 4
I recently wrote two posts on leadership: one exploring leadership as a learnable skill, related to your personal values (lived at home and work) and, ultimately, as an expression of your personal culture. The other was about how a leader needs to read more than books--but also people, including consultants, mentors, and people “smarter than you.”
Today, I’m gonna expand upon these two ideas to address a concept often treated as a holy grail of leadership: discipline.
In fact, it’s not a holy grail. Rather, it’s a simple need.
If you want to be a leader, and if you want to lead a company to create and maintain concrete growth and an increased impact, you need to have discipline, and you need to be a disciplined leader.
It sounds simple, and it is. But as with most simple things, it’s also hard to bring to life. And discipline is something you have to bring to life—in action, every day—in order for it to matter.
“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” Peter Drucker
Doing business well doesn’t just mean working hard, or working long hours, or working every day. Often, it also means working hard at the right things, the right way, at the right time.
Yes: Learn to do things right. Finish stuff. Do it on time. Do it with high quality. But also pay attention to what you’re doing and make sure you are constantly questioning whether or not you’re moving in the right direction. And if you’re not, have the courage to change course.
At Jobsity, LLC, where I’m the founder and CEO, we have sales calls every week. Often, they are slow meetings, meeting where not much happens. Don’t tell my staff, but sometimes, they’re even boring. Taken on a minute-by-minute basis, I can see reason to be tempted to cut them out, to give up on them, and to do other work instead. More immediately “necessary” work.
But at the end of the year, when we look back across these meetings and check where we are against how we’ve spent our time, it becomes clear that it was in these meetings that we often made the most important decisions impacting our work for the entire year.
Sometimes these decisions are small. Occasionally, they aren’t even conscious decisions, but the attrition of ongoing tweaks made week after week, in small increments, toward a set goal.
But without them, without the discipline it took to sit through those meetings week after week after week—even when it was (a little bit) boring—it would have been easy to have ignored such changes. It would have been easy to not set the time aside to ask ourselves: are we doing things well, and doing the right things?
Without the discipline to ask these hard questions, and to set up and hold to a weekly ritual to do so, we would have overlooked making those changes; we likely would have reverted back to our old ways, and consequently might have missed out in the growth they facilitated.
Often, it is by the smallest and most consistent changes made on a weekly basis, that we change the trajectory of our client relationships, or that we see the growth that makes the most profound impact on our bottom line.
All of this is the result of discipline.
All of this is what Peter Drucker means when he tells us that “efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”
“Only the disciplined ones are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and passions.” Eliud Kipchonge.
Another aspect of being disciplined: when you’re not disciplined, things will distract you.
Over the years, running Jobsity LLC, I’ve come across many instances when I have been asked—and when Jobsity has been asked—to do a number of things tangentially related to the work Jobsity has set out to achieve (creating the best nearshore staffing solutions for US companies).
Why not begin a new startup? Why not expand your offerings? Why not try something new?
Some of these opportunities have been interesting; others have been lucrative. Some have been both.
But time and time again, I’ve turned them down.
Because the only way we’ve been able to make Jobsity the company that it is today—the company known for being what it is, recognized for excellence at doing this specific thing—has been to stay focused, to stay disciplined, in pursuit of our singular and coherent goal.
Let me put it another way: If you do what feels right every day, without an awareness of how that task may or may not contribute to your bottom line, and your visionary idea, you might feel good in the moment, but you may or may not achieve any concrete success. (You could get lucky, but it would be that: luck).
If you follow your moods and passions, you’ll say yes to things that will take you away from your goals. If you stray from your goals, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve them.
That’s common sense.
Discipline means focusing on what you’re good at, focusing on what you value, and focusing in a way that takes away the pressure of asking “what should I do now?”
Discipline gives you focus and stubbornness without being overwhelmed by risk. Discipline, as the great marathoner Kipchonge tells us, will free you to do the work.
If you stay focused, not on your moods or your passions, but on your skills and your goals, you can organize yourself around what matters, and find both effectiveness, efficiency, and success.
Discipline, as Kipchonge says, is your surest route to freedom.
It’s that simple—in theory.
In practice, however, it takes discipline: day by day, minute by minute.
And when it’s (a tiny bit) boring, discipline is a practice. Get to it!
Stay tuned soon for my next installment, when I’ll look at the two types of humility—only one of which leaders need to have.
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