Monday, October 08, 2007


There is no reason for people to be fearful of the D-word. Discipline just describes what we have to have if we are going to achieve our goals.

First, leaders must be self-disciplined. There is always a test going on, a test of a leader's resolve to implement the mission, vision and values. Leaders have to pass this test. Discipline has to start at the top. Leaders have to have the mental toughness to stick with the mission, vision, values through good times and bad. As Ray Davis says, "As a leader you have to be tough enough to appear unyielding and unreasonable. These are our standards. This is what we are going to do. This is what we are going to become, and heaven help anyone who tries to bring conventional wisdom in here to stop us." One of the reasons a leader has to be so unyielding is that so many people are so cynical. Unbeknownst to the leader, people in the ministry are thinking, "If we wait long enough his/her big plans will go away. I've seen this all before." Only by the leader persisting over time can this cycle be broken.

Second, discipline must be spread through the organization. It starts at the top, but it doesn't end there. Everyone in the organization needs to be discipled (a related word) into the mission, vision and values. If the leader is rowing hard the boat may make slow and steady progress, but certainly nothing like when EVERYONE has an oar in the water and is rowing hard. When discipline is handled correctly it creates a powerful, positive environment. The boat leaves a wake.

It is very virtuous to have both the leader and the organization manifest discipline. When the leader does so, and the organization does not, it leads to frustration on the part of the leader. When the organization manifests a willingness to be disciplined, and the leader does not, it leads to frustration on the part of the organization. You can tell what's going on by asking, "Who's frustrated?" If it is the leader, then the organization may need to become more disciplined. If it is the organization (or people in it) then the leader may need to become more disciplined.


In addition to being generally disciplined about the mission, vision and values, Marshall Goldsmith in his book What Got You Here Won't Get Your There says a leader must also be specifically disciplined in two areas: information and emotion.

Leaders have information, and usually a lot of it. The disciplined leader realizes that there are things "better left unsaid." They get the fact that many secrets should be kept. They know there is such a thing as "too much added value" with their staff. Journalist/novelist Tom Wolfe speaks of "information compulsion" - the desire we all have to tell another person something they don't know. This compulsion can get a leader into trouble. With information, the key question for a self-discipline leader to ask is, "Is this appropriate, and how much should I share."

The same with emotion. There are a wide range of emotions that a leader experiences. Just because a certain emotion is being experienced doesn't mean that it needs to be shared. Are you angry? Maybe. Do you need to let everyone know. Probably not. I'm not suggesting a life of posing, just appropriateness. As C.S. Lewis said, transparency is a virtue, but it is not the highest virtue. A higher virtue is responsibility. So with emotions, the key question for a self-disciplined leader is "Is this appropriate, and how much should I share."

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