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Tuck Your Shirt In


One part of the Rockefeller Habits 4-3-2-1 formula includes Discipline. As Jim Collins in Good to Great notes Disciplined People, Disciplined Thought, and Disciplined Action lead a company from good to great. My work as a basketball official led me to a small version of this discipline in action during a group of summer games that I officiate. It’s a small part of the rules in high school basketball that uniforms must be tucked in during the game [provided the shirts are made that way] and as an official it’s our job to enforce these rules.

You may feel it’s funny for me to focus on this; however the smallest details I believe have the power to magnify results. Discipline is the hall mark of any successful enterprise. Watch closely and you will see it on the sports fields, the theater, in business and in any endeavor that is important. Would it seem ironic to you that the teams we had to remind to tuck their shirts in were the most frequently on the losing side of the scoreboard?

I’m reminded of one of the very first business development books I was advised to pick up when I started my business career. It was a book called Success Forces by Joseph Sugarman. He had six success forces and one was Clean Your Desk. They were all very good, and the brevity of these principles added to their impact. Clean Your Desk became my mantra when I became a manager. It was the one rule I had that created discipline, and further it helped me to know how well I was doing as a manager.

You may be aware that in the military often times the barracks are issued rules governing the state the barrack must be cleaned too. One rule is always dramatically enforced, such as the floors must be so clean you can eat off them. Or the beds must be made so tight you can bounce a quarter off them. It may seem odd that when you are trying to enforce discipline on a group of man that you would announce exactly what it is you are planning to enforce. In fact the beauty of doing this was provided by Joe Sugarman in his book. By announcing what you intend to inspect you discover how much these men are respecting it. The thinking is, if they know what is going to be inspected and they fail to follow through to specifications, then you know there are many other rules not being followed as well. Is it any wonder than why the whole barracks is punished when the rule that is widely announced isn’t being followed?

For years my clean desk rule helped me to discover who was struggling and who wasn’t. My rule was your desk had to be cleaned with the exception of three items on your desk [one of those items included was their phone, so that really meant two] at the end of the day. If you didn’t expect to come back that day you should have it clean before you left. Many times I was able to spot oncoming issues and recognize a problem with an employee before I would have otherwise when I observed an unclean desk.

If an employee’s desk wasn’t clean that evening when I left, or when I first came in the next morning I would first inquire how they were doing. In many cases they would begin telling me of the challenges they were facing either in their business encounters or sometimes of a very personal nature. I would listen emphatically and offer any advice I could. At the end of the discussion I would remind them diplomatically that I would appreciate if they would remember to clean their desk at the end of the day.

I’m not sure that many of them ever recognized that their not cleaning their desk was the tip off to me that something was wrong. They were only too happy to spill their guts about the difficulty they were encountering. It was good for them to have someone to listen to, and it was good for me to know what challenges they were facing.

Joe Sugarman’s reasons for having a clean desk were many including forcing you to organize your work, organize your work load, and put things in the proper perspective. Yet the most important value was being able to know immediately if something is wrong when your troops aren’t following the simple rule they know is your favorite inspection.

Consider adopting a “point of inspection” for your company. If you observe it and make it critical for everyone to follow think how simple it will be to spot when things are wrong.

It’s a small point of discipline, but it yields tremendous power. And it must start with you, where all great leadership begins.

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