Effectiveness is a discipline

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“Effectiveness is a discipline, which means it can’t be taught, but it can be learned.” This paradox, and its potential applications, has captivated my imagination since I heard it on a recent podcast. I observed one such application during a recent Purdue men’s basketball game. The broadcast showed video footage of Zach Edey, the team’s 7’4” center, repeatedly shooting six-foot hook shots. Apparently, he does this for 15 minutes before and after every practice and game.

Interestingly, Edey only began playing basketball six years ago. Which means he was recently taught the game. And yet, he no longer needs to be taught how to shoot a hook shot or how to be a center. What is necessary is for him to be an insanely effective center. To be wildly effective at making shots from the post.

The video clip and announcer’s comments made it clear that Edey’s focus is on the learning. Learning how the mechanics feel, what works (and what doesn’t), how it feels to repeat the behaviors that do work, and how to diagnose and quickly adjust those that don’t. It’s a matter of disciplined learning that leads to effectiveness.

Edey’s story is a case study in human behavior development. It’s about success through discipline and effectiveness, as opposed to ineffective quick fix attempts.

Similarly, business success hinges on effective leaders, and the development of effective leaders should be no different. At ADVISA, we approach leader development through a 10/20/70 model or equation.

  • Roughly 10% is knowledge and skills (i.e., what a basketball is, how to shoot a hook shot, etc.)
  • Approximately 20% hinges on relationships (i.e., trust formed with coaches and teammates who challenge and support each other)
  • The remaining 70% is environment (Coach Painter making space in the team’s schedule for Edey’s 15 minutes before and after each practice and game, the belief in a kid who had only played basketball for a few years could be great, past precedent of developing elite centers, etc.)

Most attempts at leadership development focus on how the skills might be taught, while forsaking the value and importance of learning.

For me, the analogy of a pickle and its jar drives home this point well: You can take a pickle out of a jar, clean it off, and remove the saltiness; but if you put it back into the brine it came from, it will get salty again. You can continue to wash, rinse and repeat OR you can create a different brine altogether.

The sad reality for many organizations is a culture that has bred ineffective leaders is likely to create more of the same. For leaders to be able to learn the discipline of effectiveness, it hinges on an environment that will support it. An environment, or culture, where transformative relationships can be formed and where essential skills can be learned through discipline—one 15-minute practice block after another.

Coach Matt Painter has, for almost two decades, been building an environment that supports the discipline of learned effectiveness. It’s not an environment for “one and done’s” (the term for elite athletes who play for one year and then leave for the NBA). It’s a place where most players come to get incrementally more effective through time.

Leader development shouldn’t be any different. It’s not a quick fix. But it will work.

Are ineffective leaders holding you back? Are you tired of “trainer-tainment” and books clubs that teach a few new skills but fail to deliver the disciplined learning of leadership effectiveness? If so, maybe it’s time to talk about a different approach. One that begins with data and incorporates environmental design. Reach out if you would like to learn more.


This article is adapted from Leadership Consultant Brad Smith’s original piece, shared on LinkedIn.

If you would like to read more about leader effectiveness, check out “Transformation, not training, drives retention” by fellow Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett.