Guest post by Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood, co authors of Leadership Sustainability.

Most good leaders try to become better. Around the world today, and every day of the year, thousands of leaders will attend leadership training to glean insights into how to lead better. Thousands will receive performance reviews with individual development plans on how to improve. Thousands will receive coaching with recommendations on how to change their behavior so as to deliver better results in better ways. Thousands will complete a 360-degree feedback process with data on how they are seen by others. At the end of the training, performance development, coaching, and 360-degree feedback, most of these leaders will resolve to use their new insights and be more effective. Unfortunately, few of them will implement these good intentions.

As we help leaders improve in workshops or coaching, we often start with three questions:

•           On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), how important is leadership either for your personal or organizational success? Most answer 8, 9, or 10.

•           What specific things do you need to do to be a more effective leader? Most can quickly write down two or three desired behaviors.

•           How long have you known you should improve these behaviors? Most meekly acknowledge that they have known what to improve for three, six, twelve months—or longer (decades for some).

In this simple exercise, we recognize that leadership matters (Q1) and we define what is required to be a better leader (Q2).  But most still don’t see the leadership improvements they aspire to.

In our work on leadership sustainability, we have distilled seven disciplines from multiple literatures on how leaders can sustain the changes they know they should make.

  • Simplicity:  Focus on a few key behaviors that have high impact
  • Time: Put desired behaviors into your calendar and monitor how well these behaviors show up in how you spend your time
  • Accountability:  Be personally and publicly accountable for making change happen
  • Resources:  Support your desired changes with coaching and infrastructure
  • Tracking:  Measure your behavior and results in specific ways
  • Melioration: Constantly improve by learning from mistakes and failures and demonstrating resilience
  • Emotion:  Have a personal passion and emotion for the changes you know you need to make

These seven disciplines spell the mnemonic START ME. We think this is apt because for each of us, sustainability starts with me. These seven disciplines turn hope into reality.

When leaders make commitments to change something in training, coaching, or performance management, the impact increases when participants attend to these seven disciplines as they anticipate how to turn learning into action.