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Freedom is only part of the story and half the truth…. That is why I recommend the Statue of Liberty be supplanted by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” Victor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning)

At the moment I am considering the focused application of The Three Resolutions to business and young people, and part of the research includes reading of that classic on successful business, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins – that’s where I saw the Frankl quote and, like many I use, it struck a chord.

I’ve written before about how responsibility is an essential counter-weight to freedom, so won’t labour that point. The reason for this entry is the study of the chapter in Collins’ book which is headed by that quote.

It is about how important the application of discipline is within a successful company, but with the caveat that it is not system-, management- or hierarchy- imposed discipline that has made the difference in the ‘great’ companies. No, the success relates to self-discipline of the staff.

Very briefly, Collins discovered that great companies (defined as monumentally more successful than comparator companies, and over a sustained period) did a few things others didn’t, including getting the ‘right people on the bus’, deciding the vision AFTER doing that, then focussing on what the company could be best at (and ignoring what it could not).*

One point Collins made is that the discipline wasn’t something injected at the 4th point on his Greatness Process Diagram. It was something that already existed at each point.

The right people on the bus showed discipline. Finding the right vision required discipline. Deciding on, and focusing on the core business required discipline. And execution required discipline.

Discipline is an essential in all activity, indiscipline undermines your efforts. Freedom is a great thing to have, but it requires discipline if you are truly going to enjoy it. We expect discipline in those who serve us, so absolving ourselves of the duty to be disciplined (e.g. ‘because we have earned it’) is selfish, arrogant, irresponsible and disrespectful.

Referring back to Collins’ example, the great companies did not impose discipline, they employed disciplined people who had the freedom to work (in a disciplined way) within and around the business’s systems so that the objectives could be properly achieved. Those disciplined people designed the systems but weren’t then confined by them. They were guided, yes, but not tied down.

I often bemoaned the way that organisations I worked with placed the system over and above the purpose – I used the expression ‘process at the expense of purpose’ because of the times I perceived that a success was criticised because a procedure wasn’t followed to the letter – e.g. finding a missing child instead of filling out the forms first. Collins’ suggestion is that the objective is paramount (provided it is ethical, of course) and if a process prevents it, it is the process that is wrong, not the objective, and the authority of the disciplined manager was such that s/he could work outside the procedural box to get things done without having to spend time worrying about the administrative consequence.

But the emphatic point was always – discipline made it possible. Self-discipline, then systematic discipline, and then execution discipline. But in the final analysis, given the ability to work imaginatively – it was self-discipline that mattered most.

See. I told you so.

*I’m still reading it, that’s as far as I’ve got so far. But why wait?