The Irony of Discipline: A Note to Leaders or Those Who Would Like to Be

Author: Bryan Ritchie

The seminal book, Discipline of Market Leaders suggests that to be successful an organization cannot be all things to all people. It has to have the discipline to say no. Likewise, the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution suggests that an organization can best accomplish its objectives if it exhibits discipline in four areas.

I’m a big fan of both books and think that discipline is the key factor behind every successful effort, whether that’s losing weight, growing a company, raising kids, or strengthening a community. But herein lies the rub: it’s all about the doing, not just the knowing. The ironic thing is that discipline requires discipline!

Organizations spend tremendous resources to figure out what they should be doing. They hire consultants and experts galore to come in and help them identify the right strategies, vision, and goals. I know, because I’m one of those consultants. It’s almost as if the leader believes that once we all know what to do, we’ll all do it, or do our part of it. I have worked with countless organizations that when I’m finished the organization has a clear and aligned structure that identifies exactly what every member of every team needs to do in order to successfully execute that plan. But so often the plan is never executed, or is executed in a suboptimal way. Why? The answer, I believe, is a failure of leadership. Leadership consists of two critical components. First, leaders must identify the where, what and how. Where is the organization going, what does it need to accomplish, and how will it accomplish it. This is the first necessary step and is what leaders spend most of their time doing. At this stage it’s all planning. It’s getting completely aligned, but only on paper.

What comes next is far more important, and difficult. The second, and often ignored component, is the action. It’s the doing of the plan. No one leads if no one follows. Ask yourself this question: what happened to the last great plan you devised for change, whether for yourself, your organization or something else? We probably create 10 great plans for every one we actually implement. The secret sauce to success is in the doing. And doing is hard.

There are no easy answers to getting the doing done. In fact, I believe this is where great leadership separates itself from average or even poor leadership. Great leaders get people to get things done. While nothing makes it easy to do the painful things that are necessary to achieve success, there are a few things that make it more likely that we’ll endure the often painful work that separates the great organizations from the rest.

  1. First, make the plan visible. Make sure everyone knows the plan and what’s required of everyone. Make sure it’s crystal clear. Make sure no one can claim they didn’t know what the organization was trying to accomplish.
  2. Second, make the progress or lack thereof equally visible. Make sure no one can claim they thought they were winning when they weren’t.
  3. Third, make sure everyone has identified the things they believe are required of them to make the outcomes sought by the organization a reality. My firm calls these “key performance activities.” If the bets individuals make with respect to their KPAs are not sufficient, make sure changes are made.
  4. Fourth, demand accountability from everyone in the organization, including yourself. Require that people do what they said they would. Set the example for them by being completely transparent and accountable to that which you commit to do as the leader for their benefit, including the willingness to hold you and them accountable to each other.
  5. Fifth, make it a game. Find ways to validate and reward the winners in your organization. Create a culture of performance by rewarding that behavior. Culture is simply the aggregate of all the behaviors of the people in your organization.

In the end doing is just that: doing. Nothing can force someone to do the things that will create greatness. But great leaders find a way to motivate and reward the doing, which engages those who would follow. Without it, we just have a plan on a piece of paper. Knowing without doing is, in a way, worse than not knowing at all.

Bryan Ritchie and James Western are co-founders of GrowthSPORT, a successful consulting company whose mission is to improve SCORES (Stimulate Culture, Optimize Results and Engage Staff) for Teams, Divisions, Departments and Organizations through the SPORT model (Strategic Alignment, Personnel Performance, Operational Execution, Results Accountability and Team Strength), which are the Five Core Elements of Success.

GrowthSPORT provides resources, tools and experienced consultants to effectively implement the SPORT performance model from companies ranging from Startups to Fortune 500 companies.

Feel free to reach out to GrowthSPORT at (801) 676-2500 or at


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