Any leader has plodded through the tough path of discipline to be where they are today as a leader. I would rate discipline as the most important and yet the hardest character trait that any leader has to master to earn the title of ‘Leader’. Where does a leader first encounter discipline? Parents and early development superiors. For me, I had discipline pounded and etched into my being at an early age-thankfully! I look back and thank my parents and teachers/coaches/role models for instilling the initial stages of discipline in me in my formative years. Without it, I would not have made it, period.

Throughout life, discipline is learned and experienced in both conscious as well as sub-conscious realms. Early on in our formative years, it becomes a large part ofour subconscious that keeps coming back to us like whispers in our ears throughout our lives. We can either accept or reject those helpful reminders and hints from our childhood and beyond that are trying to‘discipline’ us all over again. 

I will share a few disciplinary items that I have experienced in my life and path toward leadership. One of the hardest things I have had to do in my career was to learn and get used to speaking in front of a large audience. I had just been selected to command my first unit as a company commander in my late 20’s and was awed when I stood in front of 160 soldiers. At first, it was overwhelming for me. As luck would have it, I was going through a training course in my civilian job that taught new behaviors through re-directing our subconscious from previous learned experiences. When we change our behaviors from old ways of thinking to new ways of thinking, we first have to unlearn what we have previously experienced. Then once that step is complete, we can learn the new appropriate and acceptable behavior. I disciplined myself to stand in front of a mirror and imagine/practice being successful at speaking in front of my military company. It took many ‘practices’, but I gradually disciplined myself to get comfortable speaking in front of large audiences. Today, it has become second nature to me because the discipline I exercised many years ago.

As we gain in years of service in our lives, we are challenged with using discipline or not. The whispers in our ears keep asking or telling us, “Hey dude, you don’t have to keep yourself physically or spiritually fit–you’ve been there done that and don’t need to do it anymore.” We can either cave into those negative thoughts or fight through them to follow the ‘hard path of discipline’. We may think since we are beyond a certain age that we don’t need to work out and keep up our physical strength or attend church to bolster our spiritual health. I see this happen in all age groups. For my generation, the baby-boomers, it’s up to us to show the daily example of discipline in all areas of our lives. This is how we pass on our wisdom to the future generations. 

Discipline is the cornerstone value for all leaders. Without it, a leader has no value and struggles to have any other values. The character trait and fiber of discipline sets the stage to be able to do anything as an individual and a leader. The quality of one’s leadership is measured by their disciplined performance. 

Discipline can be exhibited in both positive and negative ways. Practicing self-control and restraint keeps us as leaders from doing negative actions that will detract from our successes as a leader. Trying to achieve lofty yet realistic goals defines that positive side of our discipline. But it takes the discipline to get out of the starting blocks to strive toward any goals we desire to achieve. All in all, discipline enables us to add/sustain/develop other character traits both as individuals as well as leaders.

Discipline & Balance

Discipline for a leader is family, spiritual health, physical health, emotional health, and work. What are your priorities in life? Taking care of one’s family and spiritual health are essential and then the latter three should fall into place quite easily through discipline. Balance starts with Discipline and has to equal reality. Meaning that you have the things that you have to do, the things that you want to do and the reality of being able to achieve your goals. Therein lies the challenge. How we achieve balance is through discipline.  

I. Discipline & Family 

Disciplining ourselves to spend the appropriate time with our family is very important. For many of us it has become a larger challenge in our world of competing items for our time. It is further difficult to spend more quality time with our families. For me, I have found that the more quality time spent with family, the better I have been able to devote more quality time to the other facets of discipline.

At the end of your life and your career, what do you want to have? Family is more important than cars, vacations, a big house, lots of property, and endless zeros in your paycheck. You could have all of those material things, but without family you would be miserable. The stuff in our lives is not more important than the people in our lives. But just like a nice car, if you don’t apply regular maintenance and care to it, your car will fall apart. The same can be said about our relationships with our family members. If we don’t invest our time wisely and thoughtfully, then we will miss out and possibly lose that important person or people in our lives. Take care and love your family for you will succeed at more things in life. 

II. Discipline & Spiritual Health 

Spiritual health affects emotional health as well as mental health. We have to practicediscipline to determine to what degree we want to work on our spiritual health. This is not how much we go to our religious gathering spot. It is our relationship with God. This is where we get our core motivation/inspiration to do what we do every day. It is where we get our moral compass and drive to push through our days. 

Without spiritual health, many of us do not get through the tough times in life. When I was in command in the Middle East in 2003-2004, I placed a huge importance on spiritual health. I encouraged my unit chaplains on fostering the spiritual health of our military members. Many of us who have been through trying times have looked back and recognized the importance of having disciplined ourselves in strengthening our spiritual health.

III. Discipline & Physical Health 

In order to have a good physical health, we must assert much discipline. This can be one of the hardest lifestyle challenges we face daily. The quality of our health is directly affected by the discipline we exhibit in our nutrition and amount of physical activity. This can be a compounded challenge by the genes passed on to us through our parents, but that’s not an excuse. To meet this challenge, it requires discipline to attain and sustain good physical health. One can only imagine the amount of discipline it takes world class athletes to get and stay in shape enough to compete in theirrespective categories.

The more years we add another ring to our tree, the harder it is to maintain physical health. The adage is often recounted, “if I knew I was going to get this old, I would have taken better care of myself!” or “I would have done things differently.” Our physical health is determined by the degree with which we exercise discipline (no pun intended).

IV. Discipline & Emotional Health 

We are all trained to have some discipline during our formative years-some more than others. I will submit to you that I am not the least bit trained to be a psychologist/psychiatrist to delve into emotional health. However, as a leader I’ve had many years of experience withdifferent types of people from all walks of life. We all have had options to either accept or reject those disciplinary actions experienced early on in life. We can decide to follow those lessons and keep doing them as we age or stop following and forge a new path, with a new way of thinking. The choice is ours to make. For whatever the reason, we accept or reject some of those childhood lessons, these ultimately shape our emotional composition.

For example, those that have been in a physically captive state (POWs, kidnapped children, human trafficked persons) have been truly tested mentally as well as in other ways. I would surmise the discipline they have attained earlier in life had a large bearing on how they were able to cope and get through their captivity.

We all have opportunities to build and sustain our emotional health everyday through the discipline we are able to interject and utilize. It has become one of the toughest challenges we face today as a society. Emotional health has become one of the most important balancing items in our very essence.

V. Discipline & Work 

In our careers, discipline is the enabler that allows us to set goals, achieve them and recognize others for their accomplishments. Any work that we accomplish has been through the discipline gauntlet within our heads. Our subconscious has signed off on the next actions through the embedded discipline we have learned and accepted as good to do.

We must learn good habits and instill them within our routine through some semblance of discipline. In most instances, the more discipline we exhibit, the more we can achieve and be successful. The more successful workers have utilized good discipline in accomplishing their workload. However, you don’t want to have such a rigid workload/work schedule that it doesn’t foster an environment for creativity and innovation. 

Conclusion

We have been discussing the importance of discipline for any leader or want to be leader. I equate discipline to a budget. We all have 24/7/365 to factor into our lives. We can spend our resources: time, energy, emotions, money in whatever percentages we choose. If we neglect any of the aforementioned areas, we will feel the repercussions of this to some degree. It all starts with discipline to have a plan (a Vision) of where we want to go in life and then how do we want to get there. 

Discipline is all about training ourselves (mostly our subconscious) to modify/alter behaviors that we choose to do in order to achieve some result. It is the absolute cornerstone to acquiring and sustaining other key character traits like work ethic, integrity and listening to name a few. All leaders start with discipline in their tool kit.

If a leader does not have discipline within themselves, how can they expect discipline from others. Others will look at the level of discipline exhibited by the leader to decide what their level of performance will be. The leader’s discipline, or lack thereof, sets the tone for the whole organization.

If you feel that you need to develop better discipline in some area, I strongly suggest seeking out a mentor. You can ask for pointers and ideas on how you can improve in your discipline in that area. Discipline yourself. If you don’t, others certainly will.

Published by Mike Diamond

MG (Retired) Mike Diamond is CEO and founder of Diamond Strategy Group. Diamond Strategy Group is a leadership development and consulting company. We focus on improving the quality of leadership within organizations by utilizing the same methods Mike and his consultants have used in both military and civilian sectors.

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