Business leaders have a tough job. They must manage themselves, lead others and keep the organization heading in the right direction. They are ultimately accountable for the organization’s success. With this comes stress, fear and other emotions that can get in the way of leadership discipline.
Working with CEOs and entrepreneurs, I have the joy of working with some fantastic leaders. I see and experience their wins — their satisfaction of doing a good job. With that, I hear and see the personal struggles, the burden of people issues and the overall frustration that comes with leading.
Leaders who take a disciplined approach to leading have a reduced level of fear and frustration.
What does undisciplined leadership look like? It first reveals itself in long-term financial performance. The organization can’t perform at the highest level over the long term. Second, you see team dysfunction and higher levels of employee turnover. Third, there is constant negative chatter underground that permeates the organization and is generally hidden from the business leaders.
Unfortunately, business leaders let the level of dysfunction and frustration become the norm. In some cases, the CEO is unaware of the frustration and dysfunction at the organizational level. How could this happen, you ask? Leaders do not always get the full story. Team members and employees tell them what they want to hear.
For instance, working with a CEO of a midsize organization, the CEO gave me the impression that things were working well at the leadership level. A deeper dive into the client allowed me to discover that there was a lot of frustration among the troops. This happens all the time. The CEO or leader does not have the complete story. Their leadership discipline does not allow for complete transparency.
So how do you become a disciplined leader? A disciplined leader creates healthy habits at the interpersonal and organizational level. This checklist can be a powerful tool that ultimately creates the discipline badly needed in an organization.
• Know your leadership principles. Write down your four leadership principles. These should be personalized to you. Don’t think of generic ones.
• Identify and communicate your expectations. Every leader should identify and communicate the top three expectations they have of their direct reports. This step alone will reduce a myriad of frustrations.
• Be consistent. Inconsistency will only add stress and chaos.
• Perform. Nothing helps your personal discipline like a high level of performance.
• Develop a 10-year aspiration for your organization. This is often overlooked, but it’s important to create an outlook for your organization, even if you have no idea how you could possibly achieve it.
• Have a strategy. Though it sounds basic, most organizations do not have a strategy. A strategy should clearly spell out the value that you bring. It creates a uniqueness and differentiation in the marketplace, spells out your where to play and not to play and identifies a set of core competencies and activities that are hard to replicate.
• Establish a strict cadence. A cadence creates discipline. A cadence is a set of meetings and communications. Start with an annual strategic planning meeting. Add quarterly strategic updates, then monthly objective and goal updates and weekly information meetings. We also advocate daily “stand-up” meetings as part of the cadence.
• Create your one big thing. Disciplined leaders identify and communicate a small set (three to five) of objectives for the year, then for each quarter. Then, that one big thing or rallying cry is highlighted and embraced across the organization.
• Be employee-centric. Get rid of the annual review process and implement a quarterly employee development plan. This should be a self-assessment and development process that takes no longer than 30 minutes.
Leading without discipline can only work in the short term. Adding discipline to your organization will reduce your level of stress and anxiety and improve the overall health of your team and organization.