What separates a good leader from a great one? Why are some managers more effective and productive? If you’re hoping for some innovative new process or groundbreaking idea, think again. The one thing every effective leader does well is practice discipline with the things that matter most.
To prove my point, think about the best athletes in the world. They all have the discipline to practice their craft over and over again until they can do it better or faster than anyone else. It might be countless hours practicing free throws and jump shots. Perhaps it’s hitting hundreds of tennis balls across the net or chipping and putting dozens of golf balls.
In my coaching work, I often find that clients want to improve but lack the discipline to practice making changes. They talk about what they want but fail with follow-through.
Unfortunately, there is no breakthrough advice or creative tips to get better at this important leadership skill. It does help to have a coach who will nag you about your stated goal and push you to be better. But, the key ingredient to being more disciplined is…that’s right, be more disciplined.
Years ago, I set an aerobic exercise goal of walking every morning. My routine is not treadmill exercise with a television or music to keep me company. Instead I push myself out of bed at 5 AM for a 30-minute brisk walk through my neighborhood. About three months out of the year I have some daylight, otherwise my dark path is lit by a single headlamp strapped around my cap.
The discipline that it takes to pull this off every day (except when it is raining hard) has its own rewards. I have been able to manage my weight as I age. My blood pressure is great and I control my genetic predisposition to high cholesterol without high doses of medication.
Leaders can always do simple and important tasks better, especially with discipline. Some of my clients now hold daily “stand-up” meetings before project teams head into the field or sales teams start making calls. These disciplined check-ins catch issues before they become problems.
Everyone would benefit from better post-meeting communication about decisions that were made. Patrick Lencioni suggests a powerful tool he calls “cascading communication” that asks two questions as every meeting comes to a close. 1) What did we agree on during this meeting? 2) What should we go back and communicate to our direct reports during the next 24 hours? This same message is “cascaded” through the next level of management until everyone hears it.
Discipline is every leader’s best friend and worst enemy. We all love the bright, shiny new management tools more than the dull, reliable routine of doing simple things well.
That’s why effective leadership is still an aspiration for so many people. Sweating the small stuff could change that reality. Give me a call if you need someone to “nag” you into doing it.