What your discipline says about your leadership
The chafing that we feel when leaders demand on-time arrivals only to make excuses for their own routine lateness is palpable. These leaders send mixed messages by demanding something from their teams that they themselves are unwilling to provide.
Is the leader who is late a hypocrite? Not necessarily. A hypocrite is one who promotes an idea or value that he doesn’t actually believe. It’s safe to assume that any leader worth his salt knows the value of being on time, along with other basic practices of success. It could be that he has a double standard, but it’s likely that he simply lacks discipline.
The gap between what we believe and preach by way of professional practices is something that few are willing to explore. Sales managers often expect things out of their teams that they would never attempt to do. It’s not that all leaders must do all things they promote. A general who sends his troops into harm’s way isn’t obliged to enter the battle on the front lines. It isn’t that he’s unwilling but because it isn’t his role.
The same holds true for teachers who give assignments and coaches who require physical discipline from their players. What’s important, however, is that the standards — which are different from activities — are consistent. In other words, the coach must be disciplined in the activities of coaching. The general must be willing to make the sacrifices relative to his role.
The way we adhere to discipline says much about who we are and plenty about our spiritual lives. Certainly we can use our natural efforts to be disciplined. We see this in people who are professionally successful yet not religious. However, given enough pressure, human limitation will rear its ugly head. That’s when God must be allowed to take over our lives. The Holy Spirit, through the gift of fortitude, often powers discipline.
Leaders who take inventory of their personal disciplines excel. They find ways to improve day after day, year after year. Ultimately their discipline becomes so engrained as a habit that the discomfort of not following through is greater than the pain and effort it takes to be disciplined. This pattern is something we all experience from a young age. Children aren’t naturally disciplined to brush their teeth, clean their rooms and shower. Parents fill in where the child lacks discipline by training the child until, at some point, the child goes from fighting these disciplines to being unable to imagine starting a day without them.
This is a testament to the Catholic concept that grace builds on nature. Where we drive our behaviors into habits, we increase our muscle to do what is good and right, therefore making the effort, well, effortless. The problem is that when the parent is removed from the circumstance, the individual must take over. The initial push to initiate a self-inflicted reward and punishment in order to create a habit or discipline is where most people fail.
I have studied, with inspiration, the disciplines of great people. To be disciplined is to be a disciple. The question is of what or of whom? The word “disciple” can mean student, penitent, sufferer, and even martyr. People often fail to see what I call negative disciplines. The 35-year-old man who lives, unemployed, with his parents, yet masters a video game, is disciplined. Sadly, it’s only to get the high score in a meaningless virtual world. If only he would understand that his disciplines can, in fact, translate to a meaningful life.
Let’s now turn our attention back to leaders who send a mistaken but understandably perceived message of hypocrisy. The weak leader weakens strong people and cripples weak people by failing to demonstrate discipline in his own life.
Coworkers and subordinates value working with smart, creative and resourceful people. However, if polled, most will tell you that all the smarts, creativity and resourcefulness mean nothing without reliability. This is where the rubber hits the road.
It’s impossible to prosper and to inspire for the long term without discipline. Lacking discipline is the kiss of death for life in the world and hope for life in the world to come. That’s why I love being Catholic. It’s God’s mercy, love and intimate knowledge of your soul and mine that has Him provide the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives when natural efforts fall short.
The Holy Spirit is the ultimate giver. When we ask, we receive, but we must be willing to accept and participate in the gift. A gift unwrapped is never enjoyed, and a gift given back insults the giver.
DAVE DURAND is an author and the CEO of Best Version Media, LLC.