In the context of personal management, discipline, focus and passion are closely intertwined subjects. One flows and leads to others. Disciplined attitude creates focus and that opens up the route to the development of passion, to do something different, something different from the ordinary.
The remarks that all men are reflection of their habits is a testimony to the fact that habits if not backed adequately by discipline and focus, are unlikely to improve existing levels of proficiency and are most likely to create only average individuals.
What is in our power to do is also in our power not to do. Never consider painful what is good for you. For this, one has to learn to rule over self. Lord Chesterfield in a letter to his son wrote, “One should always think of what one is about; when one is learning, one should not think of play; and when one is at play, one should not think of one’s learning”. The emphasis here is to be single-minded and to have focus. Discipline in about conquering oneself. And that trait, once possessed is a mighty weapon, for the pursuit of passion. Any talent, skill or trait, that induces a sense of power, also need to be kept in check. It is important not to lose sight that discipline and decency go hand in glove. Discipline prevents us from wayward paths. Those who cannot manage themselves cannot develop, nor can be seen to manage others. He that corrects not small faults will not control greatness. An undisciplined manager will invariably stray to make his colleagues a lout. Habit is a repetitive act.
The tendency then is to become its victim and remain imprisoned to it. This is not to suggest we should have no habit per se – nay; it is of extreme importance to have, for example, to develop and have the habit to rise early in the morning; it is critical to have the habit of reading something or the other before retiring to bed; it is a healthy habit to have at least one glass of water before going to sleep and after waking up too; it follows habit formation that is positive in nature and those that help you in disciplining yourself are the ones that must be had. Smoking is a bad habit, it kills. So don’t smoke. It is not good or preferable to possess habits that have negatives, as a consequence of pursuing them.
Positive habits, practiced overtime, ensure acquisition of talent, ability and skill, to ably focus on issues. It means to take an issue or problem to its final end. This is done only when one acquires mastery over the related matter at hand. To achieve mastery requires discipline and focus. The formation of positive habits is actually the discarding or renunciation of the bad ones.
Focus is about acquiring skills that allow the realisation of goals, desires and ambitions. Focus is certainly not about acquiring habit rather knowing with full understanding of what and where the focus is expected to lead. The successive repeating of the same thing, work or process, does not guarantee better results, especially if the task is mechanical in nature. A worker on the assembly plant of automobiles doesn’t learn anything better than the first experience of doing his/her bit on the assembly line; for example if his bit is to put the wipers on the wind screen – doing it for the second or the umpteenth time, gives him no fresh experience or knowledge.
Focus is to direct with full command the ways and manners you think and react to situations. It is to exercise complete control over the thought process. It is therefore as much about directing the thought to undertake positive action and steps. Leaders generally suffer from the lack of guiding and controlling attention span, which is why they lose focus in not mere speech and response, but also in terms of what destination or goal posts, they have set for either the corporate entity or even the government.
All scientific and technological advancement are consequence of focus. The focus and passion when combined in an individual produce thinkers, scientists, poets; like Einstein, Newton, Marie Curie, etc; writers like the great bard William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott; poets like Milton, Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and of course great artists like Leonardo, Raphael, etc.
Passion is the result of a sincere objective and no victory or success can be had, without it. Lack of privilege usually fires quality passion and ambition. Passion permits husbanding failure in life. Abraham Lincoln, one of my most admired leaders in history, also ran through periods of repeated failures, depression and emotional upsets. At the age of thirty two, while working for a law firm, he wrote a letter to his partner, which amongst other things read, “I am now the most miserable man living…… if what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall even be better I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me”. The letter had an abrupt ending, “I cannot write anymore”. Later in life, with discipline, focus and passion, being his inherent strengths, for achieving success and converting repeated failures, he proved wrong all of his own forebodings. He emerged as a great leader, who today is one of the handful Presidents of USA, any would care to remember.
“I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time” (Charles Dickens). Focus, always on intrinsic instinct strengths. One must train the mind to work like a gimlet, directed towards a single objective of achieving and realising the ambition. The best example of this kind of attitude and behavior is that of our Founder, Mr Jinnah. The creation of Pakistan was his focus and ambition.
Lack of focus is usually the cause of failure than either lack of intellect or managerial ability. Personally, I am filled with regret, when in conversation with younger (even older) colleagues, I discover in them to my utmost chagrin, the lack of discipline, focus, and passion. Most seem like robots that come in to do a day’s work, for which they wait to be paid for, at the end of the month. No spark. No fire. They simply refuse to recognise that desires and ambition require continuous development of sustainable thoughts, against all odds and frustration, they may encounter.
On such, a blank is drawn on their face when confronted with an interrogative remark, like, “which book are you reading these days?” While, this scribe does not absolve the youth from the responsibility to bring discipline, focus and ambition to their lives; I hesitate not to squarely blame firstly the parents, and then the teachers/ professors, who in the present day materialistic world, are in complete dereliction of their duty, largely because of their own unbridled quest for material wealth.
I see no harm in any segment‘s (of society) making more money, so long as they remain committed to fulfilling their primary and secondary responsibilities. I recall with fondness to these youngsters and older ones too, how I and my siblings could devour 50 or more books during summer holidays -we always had after dinner conversation with our father, who spiced our learning, through narrative of anecdotes, parables, from all spheres of life. The need to impart didactic principles of duty, morality, and ethics through stories, fables, maxims, adages, and proverbs is now totally absent and missing in families.
Maiming passions does not yield to goodness, instead passion should be made to mature, strengthen and give vision to the moral nature. The elevation of soul happens only through realisation of passion.
Passion as a concept knows no death; the heart creates fresh passion upon the realisation or destruction of one. Great managers are made of passionate men and women. They recognise passion is a necessity that however must be kept reined in and in continuous harnessing; allowing it to run amok in their lives, they know well, will spell untold disaster.
In the “Art of Worldly Wisdom”, Joseph Jacob says, “A wise reserve seasons the aims and matures the means”.
Leadership will be made available only to those who through discipline make themselves fitted fully to meet an emerging challenge -opportunity or event. Those who are prepared, focused, disciplined and possessed with the passion never allow any failure to sour their ambitions.
The writer is a senior banker and a freelance contributor