4 Steps to Fanatic Leadership Discipline

Over Memorial Day weekend, my family spent some time at the river. Trying to stay true to actually getting some exercise, even while on vacation, I was pushing my kids in the stroller down a windy and hilly river road when we came upon a man chopping firewood, transporting in on a wheelbarrow, and putting it in a spot beside his house to store.

It’s May in Alabama. Even at 9 am it was approaching 90 degrees with the humidity level about that high. It was hot, and it will be hot for a while, most likely until at least October.   I thought this man was crazy. With no need for firewood in the near future, why would he be utilizing the vacation holiday weekend farthest away from winter this side of Easter to chop firewood? In long pants and a long shirt no less.

I wasn’t the only one perplexed by what he was doing. After we passed him a second time, my four-year-old said, “Mommy, what is that man doing?” I responded he’s chopping and moving firewood, to which he replied, “Why?”

But as a read, Great by Choice by Jim Collins, a book focused on leading and thriving in the midst of uncertain environments (and let’s face it, isn’t every environment uncertain in one way or another?), I realized this man just might be illustrating a key leadership principle emphasized in the book.

This is the principle of “Fanatic Discipline” and this quote captures its sentiments:

“Victory awaits him who has everything in order- luck people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.” Roald Amundsen (the first person to lead a team to reach the South Pole).

It dawned on me, this is what we strive to teach leadership coaching clients by instilling consistent behaviors that lead to habits that then lead to results. In other words, we preach “fanatic discipline” by chopping your firewood before you even need it.

If you are wanting to instill “fanatic discipline” to reach results, how do you do it?

1.You focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. The only thing you can control is your behavior. Nothing more classically illustrates this than Stephen Covey’s Circle of Control and Influence concept (read more about it in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People). Our friend wasn’t focused on the heat, which he couldn’t control, or one to make excuses for the heat, instead he did number two….

2. Focus on doing important behaviors regularly, not all in one bout of energy, but in a way that allows for consistent progress to be achieved (for more on this, read the chapter on “20 Mile March” in Great by Choice. I imagine our man chops a little bit of firewood every morning throughout the year, even when it is hot and even when it is a holiday, in order to have enough stored for the winter. He doesn’t wait until the first sign of a cold snap to get to chopping. Slow and steady really does win the race. As Collins states in Great by Choice

“It’s about having concrete, clear, intelligent and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keep you on track. The 20 Mile March creates two types of self-imposed discomfort: (1) the discomfort of unwavering commitment to high performance in difficult conditions, and (2) the discomfort of holding back in good conditions.”

3.The behavior is monitored and tracked, not the outcome. There is nothing like a good ole chart, simple and easy to keep track of your progress and actually motivate performance. The simple process and tool we have begun using for this can be found in Marshall Goldsmith’s book Triggers. As Goldsmith states, “Quantifying effort rather than outcomes reveals patterns that we’d otherwise miss.” I imagine our friend the firewood man has a chart on his fridge that he checks off on the days he does his chopping or one that he makes a tally mark on each day he chops to count how much wood he has or has left to chop (or maybe he doesn’t, but for my story’s purpose he does).

4.When the first three things are done, we set ourselves up to achieve outcomes. I know the firewood man won’t be cold this winter. Do you often leave yourself out in the cold because you’ve focused on the outcome and not the effort or the consistent behavior to achieve the result you are looking for? I know I have.

What is one thing you can control, start to do today, and track with “fanatic discipline” that will help you be the leader you want to be?

Mary Ila Ward

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