Make it a habit of keeping your commitments.

  • Key Components of Commitment
  • Making a Decision
  • Taking Ownership
  • Using Your Network & Knowledge
  • We Either Are or Are Not Committed

We aren’t born with discipline – we have to acquire it. Leadership, like any other learned skill, has its fundamental disciplines. These must be learned and reinforced, despite the level of innate talent you’re born with. Anyone can espouse what great leadership looks like. Living it out in your day to day interaction is a wholly different thing. Simon Sinek has quickly become a sage to leaders of all ages. I couldn’t argue with much of what he espouses. The “knowing” part of change is the easiest part. How do I do it and sustain it? How does it get embedded into my DNA as a leader? That is where the rubber meets the road on true discipline.

Putting leadership into practice requires a level of discipline that is not often experienced. It takes time, consistent practice, and requires a clear focus on the end result. Once you step onto the field of play in business and life, you find that not all of the popular leadership books do a good job helping you understand the disciplines of an effective leader. Effective…got it? That’s the biggest test for any of us who lead. Are we effective, so that we can affect outcomes? What are some key disciplines leaders know they must have to succeed? I’ll cover three of the biggies in this series of posts. I’ll start with the one that scares many people — “C-O-M-M-I-T-M-E-N-T”.

To  be a disciplined leader, ground zero is the ability to make and keep commitments repeatedly over time. Leaders make decisions, decisions require commitment and a leader’s commitments are gold. I define commitment as a way of being intellectually and emotionally bound to a purposeful action. Once you say you are committed, then that means you will do whatever it takes to deliver. Aristotle really hit the nail on the head when he told us — “we are what we repeatedly do — excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”

I define commitment as a way of being intellectually and emotionally bound to a purposeful action.

 Leadership excellence means we make a habit of keeping our commitments. Do it repeatedly and see how much power and capacity you begin to create for yourself and those depending on your leadership. Keep your meetings and appointments with employees with the same rigor you would give to your largest-paying client. This rigor in showing up on time is the foundation you will build everything upon in the future. Understanding commitment not only tells you what you will do, but it tells you what you will not do. Life becomes more straightforward, but not easier. “Being” your word is a powerful play to run in work and life. Make it a practice.

In my view, the process of commitment involves three key components:

  • Making a Decision
  • Taking Ownership
  • Using Your Network & Knowledge

Making a Decision

Some decisions are easy. Many are not, particularly in today’s increasingly complex, competitive and shape-shifting reality. Things are not likely to get easier, so rise to the task. Keep in mind:

  • We struggle with making decisions when we lack perspective or focus.
  • To gain perspective, we must learn from past judgment and tough calls based on the experiences of others. We must do the hard work of gathering points of view that will serve as a guide—constantly.
  • Making decisions requires commitment along with the ability to trust
  • Consequences, whether good or bad, are the “title” or proof of ownership when we make decisions. Not everybody wants to be an owner, nor should they be. At some point you have to own the results of your decision and not blame others for outcomes.

Everyone approaches decision-making based on things like experiences, personal values, process, and intuition. I’m still perplexed about how I can make big life changing decisions or handle tough deals in a marketplace with little stress. YET, put a lunch menu in my hand with too many choices and I can lock up like rusty wrench. So, each of us have our spaces and places where we see some decisions as tougher than others. I’ve solved the menu problem by just picking something…literally that’s what I had to learn to do. A practice I needed!

Intensity and importance, along with level of impact are what fuels pressure. Assessing the degree of pressure surrounding a decision begins with clearly understanding the critical success factors vital to reaching necessary outcomes. This area often falls under a varying degree of each person’s perspective. What you may find daunting, may not seem quite so to another person. We all handle or feel pressure/force differently. With experience some leaders get better at making decisions under pressure and other leaders or managers never have a breakthrough. That’s why you see some leave jobs because of stress, while others thrive.

Pressure to perform is a good thing. I really believe it does provide a crucible for growth and learning. I’m not saying we need to be in the pressure cooker every second, but if we don’t find ourselves a bit stretched, we may never find our capabilities. Life is full of expectations; leaders and winners I’ve coached want to commit to a challenge. It can be addictive in a good way. It’s more about growth and learning and less about achievement. It’s fun!

With experience some leaders get better at making decisions under pressure and others never have a breakthrough. That’s why you see some leave jobs because of stress, while others thrive.

Time weighs in heavy when making decisions. The amount of time afforded you is most often not in your control — it’s a circumstance to be dealt with—either accepted or overcome. Some opportunities have a window. Life and work move so fast that opportunity doesn’t take the time to even knock. It slows down just long enough for you to recognize it, run alongside it, and jump on board. Don’t let the realities of time force you to break your commitments.

This point really hit home for me when I was a part of a dynamic and highly committed leadership team. A colleague named Dr. Wayne Weiland was a key leader for our team. At one meeting he brought up the prioritizing concept of “glass balls”. It’s up to you to recognize your “glass balls”—those things that if dropped would be extremely detrimental to the success of your business, or you as a leader. The name of the game is to choose your glass balls wisely. How many  can you realistically hold without dropping and breaking them? And — do you have the right ones? Because the deal is, once you pick them up you can’t put them down. You own them – they’re yours to make happen.

Know where you’re most vulnerable and choose your commitments well. The funny thing about commitment is how amazingly uncomplicated it is compared to many of the things we may consider as a leader. It is as much a way of being as it is something we exhibit by our actions. We either are or are not committed. There is no middle ground, and this makes the awareness (or distinction) of commitment so powerful for all of us as leaders. If you are over-committed it’s your fault. That may be a statement that will rankle some who read this, but we have to live with this distinction clear in our minds. Otherwise, we will slowly let ourselves “off the hook”.

Don’t let realities of time force you to break your commitments. We all have 24 hours in a day.

Be specific in what you’re committing to and don’t over commit (which is known by another name…failure). Get a win and keep winning by delivering on your word. In the book “The Leadership Challenge” by Kouzes ad Posner they talk about the DWYSYWD. Do What You Say You Will Do. This builds a foundation of credibility. Disciplined leaders exude credibility.

Now, admittedly this puts all the pressure on personal homework up front before you go around giving your word on something right from the “get go”. Know this going in — it won’t be the big deals or items where you get challenged the most to keep your commitments. My personal experience that of my clients is that things unravel at a much simpler level. It shows up in the “small” things. Will you make it okay to be home 10-15 minutes late while your partner has dinner ready at the agreed upon time? Or, maybe you’ve had a rough week and crawl home mentally drained. . . but you promised your kids you’d take them to the library, or out for pizza, or to the park (you fill in the blank). Feelings don’t serve us well in the space of commitment. Remember — we either are or are not committed; there is no middle ground.

Why Disciplined Decision Making is Crucial

The pressure to perform, grow and manage day-to-day activities makes it difficult for us to be disciplined in our decision making. But, it is precisely this discipline that allows us to capture the upside of our growth opportunities and minimize the risk we take in the process. Discipline in our decision-making means that we take the time, even when time is short, to determine the true objective of the decision we are facing, to identify multiple alternative approaches to achieving the objectives, and to carefully analyze each of those alternatives.

Taking Ownership

Ideal leaders don’t make their problems anyone else’s — they own them and act accordingly. This is the next essential component of commitment I’ll talk about. The magic in the discipline of owning your problems, challenges and opportunities is taking initiative. I like this definition of initiative:

The power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do.

To me, that says it all. Fill your company or team with solution-oriented people who assume ownership from the get-go, give down-stream employees support to solve problems on their own, and provide employees with the resources and moral support to ask for help. You can’t control all the outcomes or circumstances, but you can stay drilled in on the things you can control and influence. Live up to your commitments, even when crap happens. Don’t forget that those glass balls you’ve picked up you now own – and you need to carry them safely to the endpoint. How well you do this will dictate your success or failure.

Using Your Networks & Knowledge

Ideal leaders work to gain important perspectives and knowledge so they can make the best decisions possible. They tap into their networks to learn and connect with resources. This is the final critical piece of making informed commitments.

In many ways, leaders are their network; without the proper connections, a leader will  be powerless and inefficient at best (think about a computer network being down – nothing happens). Powerful or power-filled networks can tremendously expand your capacity to take care of business and do what you set out to do. As in most areas of life, your success is directly tied to the quality of your relationships. Commit now to building and maintaining your network of relationships. Nurture and build power within it by helping others to accomplish their objectives and goals.

In many ways, leaders are their network.

 We Either Are or Are Not Committed

Do you make a habit of keeping your commitments repeatedly over time? Do the quick awareness self-assessment questions below and see where you stand.Think a bit before you answer — be as thorough and honest as you can. If you discover gaps or shortfalls, start outlining what the result of working on them would create in your life.

Making & Keeping Your Commitments

  • I defined commitment as “being intellectually and emotionally bound to a purposeful action”. How do you define commitment to yourself and others in your network?
  • As a disciplined leader, how do you demonstrate commitment to yourself? How does your ability fulfill on your commitments impact others?
  • When you don’t keep your word what is the impact on you and others?
  • What value would it bring if you made this a discipline and a practice?

Maybe its time to make being your word a discipline and practice. It will be nearly impossible to be either responsible or accountable without this base to build upon. Virtually impossible to have sustainable success as a leader and business owner. Next, find a coach or colleague that will help you grow in this area and become more aware and accountable. Contact The Heartwood Group if you’d like direction, we know lots of coaches around the world that would be a great source of support.

In matters of discipline (as well as everything else), the most successful leaders are mentally and intellectually aware – first and foremost of themselves. This is an ongoing effort. Part 2 will be the next posting. We will engage in furthering the discussion on how to maintain an intense focus and how straight talk with disciplined listening are essential to this notion of The Discipline of Leadership!