The connection between discipline and success is one that leaders know well. Disciplines such as communicating regularly with staff, setting goals, holding people accountable, and giving feedback reap their reward in the form of a positive corporate culture, strong teams, fulfilled objectives, and business growth. Given that direct cause-and-effect relationship, why do leaders often stop the very disciplines that helped them achieve success? In our work with thousands of leaders, three reasons bubble to the surface: leaders stop practicing good leadership disciplines because they get overconfident, distracted, or burned out.
Overconfidence stems from the feeling that “We made it! We are successful and everything is going well.” Leaders who are overconfident brush off disciplines (not necessarily all the time, but some of the time) as unnecessary. For example, a leader might neglect to consistently reiterate the company’s core values. After all, he may reason, why bother? Everybody obviously knows and is living into the core values, so why take up valuable meeting time to review them?
Distraction often goes hand in hand with success. There are a thousand issues to address, projects to manage, and tasks to be done. The demands on a leader’s time come in a continuous stream. With so many urgent and important activities to attend to, disciplines can get shunted aside because they do not scream for attention. Take a leader’s regular one-on-one time with each of his or her direct reports: if the hours of the day are jam-packed with meetings, those appointments are all too easy to cancel.
Burnout is the unsurprising result of leaders pushing themselves and their teams day after day. Their efforts have achieved success but left them exhausted. They feel like they cannot summon the energy or the motivation to do what needs to be done. For instance, a leader may not confront a toxic employee because she just does not want to have one more difficult conversation.
Success, however, is not a permanent state – it is a transitory phenomenon. To maintain success, you as a leader have to sustain the practices that brought about that success. Bear in mind that wherever the leadership goes, so goes the rest of the organization. Therefore, if you want your employees to demonstrate intensity, commitment, and consistency, that is what you need to demonstrate as well. That means continuing to establish clear goals, track and assess metrics, resolve conflicts, and all the rest.
Take a moment today to ask yourself: “Am I slacking off important leadership disciplines? If so, why?”
Do not rush through this self-assessment. Ask yourself pointed questions, such as:
- Am I providing my employees with regular feedback?
- Am I praising employees in a timely manner when they do well?
- Am I holding my staff accountable for their deliverables?
- Am I encouraging dialogue on my team?
- Have I been avoiding a tough issue?
Be mindful of the fact that we tend to paint ourselves in a rosy light, so it is very helpful to also seek feedback from your colleagues, giving them permission to speak freely and honestly. Listen to what they say without getting defensive. The truth can be a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but it is the best medicine.
If your self-assessment and colleague feedback reveals that you have become slack in your leadership disciplines, don’t beat yourself up. It happens. If you became overconfident, acknowledge it and remind yourself that success is not a given – you have to work at it and work for it every day. If you are distracted, clear out space to re-prioritize your time and energy. If you are burned out, take care of yourself and remember that practicing leadership disciplines ultimately saves you time and energy because they prevent problems from getting out of hand and help work run smoothly.
Then, re-engage. The great thing is that you already know what you need to do. Go back to the disciplines that got you to where you are. Make them a priority once again. Do what you need to do – and success will follow.