Duke the Cat . . . focus and discipline

If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.  ~Mark Twain

My brother has a young cat named Duke.  This is one amazing little cat.  First of all he is extremely cuddly, always looking for stroking and petting.  And he’s adorable, with large inquisitive eyes and a playful character.  He is constantly playing with their two large German Shepherds, which they good-naturedly tolerate.  But most amazing of all is Duke’s hunting abilities.  Every morning without fail he brings his catch to the large sliding glass door for everyone to see, then proceeds to have his breakfast.

Duke’s effective hunting prowess is a combination of two traits, focus and discipline.  Duke is incredibly focused on his objective, to catch a rodent or bird to eat.  That’s his primary goal. And this focus causes him to be on the lookout at all times.  He prowls the garden.  He searches in the woods.  He checks out the wood pile and nearby trees.  And when he spots a potential meal, his focus intensifies.

His prey is not just sitting idly waiting to be eaten.  They are alert as well, which requires Duke’s second vital trait, discipline.  Duke has the discipline to crouch and wait for what seems like an eternity.  He disciplines his breathing and muscles so as not to show the slightest bit of movement that could alert his prey.  His approach is highly disciplined as he inches forward.  Duke has far more discipline than his prey and as a result usually winds up victorious.

Watching Duke got me thinking about organizations and business effectiveness.  These two critical traits seem to be in short supply in most companies.

Focus: the center of interest or activity; the ability to keep your eye on the goal, no matter what; the ability to get others to focus on that goal as well through good communication and active enrollment; the ability to say “no” to other opportunities that might pop up.  With all the distractions in our modern business world it is becoming even more difficult to focus.

Focus is the job of the senior team.  It’s a leadership imperative if a company is to deliver on its strategic objectives.  The senior leadership team must not only be aligned in order to focus on their collective strategic objectives but also help the entire organization focus as well.  A recent informal study suggests that nearly 30% of the projects and formal initiatives in a company do not relate to any of the strategic objectives!  In this case, leadership has lost focus and allowed the organization to dilute its assets, brains and cash.

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.    ~Mark Twain

Discipline: sticking to a given process or activity; the ability to follow-through and bring a task to completion; the ability to follow the process under all circumstances; the will to complete the assignment no matter how you feel. In this case, discipline refers to process discipline, again an ingredient in short supply.

Discipline is the role of management.  To keep themselves on purpose, on process and to help others remain accountable for effective completion of tasks and assignments.  But today’s modern organization is filled with more excuses and blame than discipline.  While finding an “easy way out” or the “short cut” is just human nature, without good business processes that are well documented and that people are trained to understand, it is impossible to expect process discipline and effective delivery.

We have found that too much of a manager’s time is spent dealing with data and reports for upper management instead of helping the organization deliver results.  Data does not deliver results; at best it is a help to locate process inefficiencies. Results are delivered through effective processes combined with process discipline.

Without discipline there is nothing to be proud of.   ~Richard Kempe

It would be an interesting exercise for an organization to asses its Leadership Focus and Management Discipline.  More rigor in these two activities might bring significant insights on the road to the effective delivery of strategic and business objectives.

Thanks, Duke!

(for more on the ingredients required for effective strategy execution, check out my new book: FASTBREAK – The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E | john@johnrchildress.com

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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5 Responses to Duke the Cat . . . focus and discipline

  1. Raunak says:

    John, you are so right! Unfortunately, focus is what most leaders lack and discipline is equally rare in managers.
    Yesterday I was reflecting on the values that I have grown to appreciate thanks to my upbringing in a military family…and discipline ranked first. The other words that came to mind were respect and loyalty.
    Love your book…its a gem…and I’m only half way through it!

    Like

  2. Great post John. I can so relate to your cat analogy, and think it is a great way to highlight what too many organisations lack. We should try and think of what animal these organisations are: turkeys or something?!

    I do an exercise with organisations in which people assess how clear they are about what is important, and how much of their time they spend working on the right initiatives/activities. Over 15 years, working with large corporates around the world, guess what the percentage of the working week is spent on Right activities?

    40%

    3 days per week lost to non priority activity.

    Scary, but what a massive opportunity at the same time!

    Like

    • Michael: with only 5% of senior executive time spent on strategic objectives, it is no wonder that people work on “crisis” issues and day to day solutions rather than overall important issues.

      Like

  3. Great story. Great post. And hitting my sweet spot here John with Focus and Discipline.

    Like

  4. Pingback: Social Media and Strategy Execution | John R Childress . . . Rethinking

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