One of your direct reports disregards a rule. What do you do?

Do you let it slide because they are a top performer? Do make excuses for them because they might not know better? Do you fire them to send a message to your team? 

It all comes down to discipline, and not in the way you’re probably thinking.

Most leaders think of discipline as a negative. In reality, discipline is what you do for someone not to someone. My company LearnLoft defines discipline in the Elevate Others Leadership Report as “to promote standards in order for an individual to choose to be at their best.”

Discipline allows you to set high standards for what’s expected and hold people accountable to the choices they decide to make every day. As former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell once said,

“The essence of leadership is holding your people to the highest possible standard while taking the best possible care of them.”

He’s right, and he exposes a fundamental truth that the best leaders understand about discipline: It’s essential to set a really high bar and to care.

If you want to be a more disciplined leader, follow these three steps: 

1. Focus on your relationships.

If the quality of your relationships are continually getting better, discipline becomes much more comfortable. The vast majority of leaders with whom I have the opportunity to coach in the Ultimate Leadership Coaching Program overestimate the strength of the relationships with individuals on their team. I coach them to evaluate their relationships based on these four keys factors:

  • Bond of Mutual Trust
  • Amount of Enjoyment
  • Quality of Communication
  • Shared Values and Commonalities

Like any relationship, the key for it to grow and strengthen is your most limited resource: time. Carve out time in your busy schedule to invest in these relationships. 

2. Set clear standards and gain buy-in.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson University’s championship-winning football coach, has a mantra: “Best is the standard.” A standard defines what good looks like. I’ve come to realize that the very best leaders don’t just determine what good looks like–they define what great looks like. 

While only you can determine what great looks for your team, one common standard all leaders have to decide upon is how their weekly team meetings are run. A good standard for a team meeting is everyone shows up on time and isn’t distracted during the time you are together. A great standard is everyone shows up on time, and each team member comes prepared to share three things:

  • What they did last week to move the needle
  • What they are working on this week
  • Where they need help

Think long and hard about what great looks like for your team. Once you’ve determined that, communicate it as clearly as you can to your people. That’s how you gain their buy-in. If you fail to attain their buy-in, your standard won’t be met very often.

3. Create a culture of accountability.

Now, the hard part starts. You must hold yourself and the entire team accountable for meeting and exceeding your standards.

I define accountability in my upcoming book Building the Best as “the obligation of an individual or an organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner.” The key word is “obligation.”

You have an obligation to yourself and your team to create a culture of accountability so you help build the best people you possibly can. Get in the habit of inspecting what you expect so the entire team knows how interested and involved you are. When a team member fails, meets or exceeds the standard, have direct dialogues to share disapproval, acknowledgment or praise.

And above all: Never lose sight of the enormous responsibility and opportunity you have to help elevate others.

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