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Newsletter: Discipline Solves Problems

Sep 1, 2010 7:47:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

Good decision making is the result of good discipline. [more]

My sister, Felicia, saw me teach at Lakeland Community College’s Entrepreneurship Academy last week and on the way home she said,

“I noticed that you didn’t give your students your opinions on their issues, even though they asked. Instead, you gave them disciplined approaches to help them form their own opinions and solutions.”

I was proud she noticed. The hardest part about teaching and consulting for me is resisting sharing my opinions.

There are several reasons I’m careful about offering my opinions to students and colleagues:

  • No matter how much time I spend with them, I can’t possibly know the depth and detail of the issue being described, let alone the dynamics of their lives and the organization they function within;
  • When they tell me what their situation is, I’m only getting their side. I can’t possibly know their deeper, real objectives and their personality as it pertains to a given situation; and
  • When I offer solutions, I’ve suggested to that person that I can come up with a better answer than they can which is not a very empowering approach.

And so I strive to respond to requests for opinions with disciplines – not answers.

My Mom was a great teacher. When one of us would go to her for advice she would listen intently. Then she would ask a lot of questions, mostly related to “what have you done to solve the issue so far; what are the results of those actions.”

Usually, her last question would be this:

“So, what do you think you should do?”

One time, frustrated, I said, “Mom, that’s why I’m asking you. I don’t know what to do!”

To which she smiled and said, “Well, then what will you do when I’m not around?”

Her approach, of course, was to assure that she empowered instead of enabled her children by teaching them to use discipline to make important decisions.

I learned from Mom and others that, to solve problems we need discipline more than opinion.

I shudder when I think of how many times I’ve made a decision based on my opinion, then built a rationale on why that decision made sense.

Obviously it should be the reverse.

My latest “Mom” (I’ve had many good teachers) is the Chairman of my peer group, Brad Roller.

When I bring Brad an issue he resists offering me his opinion. After telling him about a decision I’m pondering, he usually starts his questions with:

Brad: “What are you trying to accomplish?”

Often after I tell him what I think is my goal, he’ll say “Are you sure that’s your goal?”

More often than not, I proceed to alter my goal since he’s made me think more deeply about it.

That’s discipline number one – make sure your goal is what you think it is.

Discipline two is to decide how you will measure progress toward that goal.

After re-setting my goals, Brad usually asks, “How will you know if you’re achieving your goals?”

In response to that question, he usually requires that I develop key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure whether I’m making progress to my goals. Each month, I must report these KPIs to him.

A recent example: Alice and I still own 5 of the original 24 condos we built in 2005-06. Since the housing market crashed in 2007, we haven’t been able to sell these final five units.

When I went to Brad with selling the final five as my issue, I told him my goal was to make money no matter how long it took to sell them. He said, “Are you sure?” In digging deeper, I found that our company is losing $16,000 each month that we hold onto the condos at the price we’ve been offering.

So, my goal has since changed to: Stop losing $16,000 a month!

We announced “fire sale” prices on the remaining condos and, in two weeks, we’ve sold two homes!

The point is that discipline and simplicity will always beat opinion and complexity. And yet, we more often choose opinions just because it’s easier.

Discipline is tough but it’s not complicated. And that’s what makes business and life complicated. We tend to work around problems rather than through them.

If you are having trouble making a big decision it’s probably because you don’t have a friend like my Mom or Brad – and as I try to be to my students. That is, you need someone who won’t give you their opinion and instead help you make sure that you pursue the right goal, then measure faithfully.

Discipline is harder – but it’s far more rewarding.

Tags: Newsletter, Planning, Decision making, Discipline, Goals

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy

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