Leadership can be learned, but it requires discipline to be effective. It requires identifying and establishing a pattern or system of constructive behaviors, then repeating them, until they become habits that are ingrained into your routine.
Leadership disciplines are controlled behaviors designed to accomplish specific objectives. They are determined based on the individual leader’s personal style and skillsets, their roles and responsibilities, and the culture and needs of the organization where they function in a leadership capacity.
Leadership roles and responsibilities are all relative. The ability to effectively hold a leadership role in a Fortune 100 company, a family owned business, a mid-sized non-profit, city government or as an entrepreneur is different for each person. But the need for discipline is consistent across every setting.
Leadership is establishing a relationship with others, to influence behaviors, to accomplish a goal. Thus leadership discipline is important because no matter the size of the team, everyone is watching and to some degree imitating the leader. And because everyone is watching the leader, it’s important to model the right behaviors. These behaviors are determined by the results the leader wants to accomplish.
Athletes provide a great example of the need for discipline. They come in all shapes and sizes, from little league superstars to multimillion dollar professionals. But each have to learn the disciplines of their respective sport in order to improve their skill level, and to be competitive. There are four key steps to this discipline.
Repetition – Specific physical movements are necessary to excel in each position of every sport. Baseball pitchers have to learn how to throw at different speeds, trajectories, and breaks on the pitch. All of this requires extensive practice and training. But over time pitchers build muscle memory, such that it becomes almost automatic. They couple this with knowing exactly what pitch to use with each batter, depending on the batter’s record and status of the game.
Similarly, leaders in specific industries, cultures, positions, and organizational challenges, have to identify the right behavior to constantly repeat to get the right results. If they are consistent, over time the organization comes to expect and anticipate their behavior and responses. Too often though, leaders make a short term commitment to improve or change their behavior, but fail to stick with it. This not only defeats the purpose, but it erodes trust among their team that they’re committed to the cause. Ultimately, whatever behavior the leader regularly exhibits, is the behavior the team comes to expect, whether positive or negative.
Play Book – Every sports team has a play book that lays out the routines necessary for them to perform and win. This is so that every team member understands their own roles and responsibilities, and that of their teammates. And it specifically identifies the tactics and plays that are appropriate for various situations.
Every leader similarly needs clearly laid out roles and responsibilities for the people on their team, so that everyone clearly understands what to expect. This is more than just job responsibilities. It includes decision-making rights, communication processes, business outcomes, conflict management strategies, and more.
Supporting Behaviors – Well-disciplined athletes treat their bodies as their most valuable resource. They make sure they eat food that provides the right fuel and nutrition, exercise in a manner that builds the right muscle mass, get sufficient rest, and work to improve their mental focus, so that they have the mindset of a winner.
Similarly, good leaders understand what their bodies and minds require for optimal performance. This may mean learning how to best function with extensive travel across multiple time zones; managing during extreme work circumstances that may include physical, mental or emotional challenges; and finding their most creative and productive work zone.
Self-Control – Successful athletes learn that discipline is necessary not only when practicing and playing, but it’s a 24/7 activity. They must exhibit appropriate behaviors, establish personal boundaries, and prioritize their time. Someone is always watching them, and fair or not, the more successful the athlete, the greater expectations others have of them.
Similarly, leaders are always “on”. Employees who see leaders drink excessively at the bar after work, drive erratically, display rudeness to a hotel desk clerk, or behave disrespectfully to a spouse, will incorporate those pieces of information into their overall perception of the leader. And if that behavior is inconsistent with their workplace persona, it will negatively impact that image.
Discipline and Trust
Disciplined leaders build trust with their employees. As they display consistent behaviors over time, their employees develop a level of trust in the expectations and reactions of the leader. When the leader’s behaviors are positive, constructive and collaborative; and when they reward similar behaviors in their direct reports who lead others, it embeds those values in the organization. Employees understand by example the necessary behaviors for success, and can model that same behavior.
When leaders’ behaviors are erratic or unpredictable, trust is eroded, and employee stress increases. And when employees are stressed and uncertain about their leaders, productivity declines, and costs increase.
Leadership discipline is key to building a high functioning team, so that everyone works together to focus on results. Leadership discipline is built on trust in one’s own capabilities, and on the importance of providing consistent and constructive leadership for the organization.
So, what disciplines do you practice to make your leadership successful?