The Coach is In…


The other day I received an inquiry about conducting an ‘all day’ (my emphasis) workshop on the advantages of discipline in leadership. My first thought was, “Oh my gosh an entire day on discipline? Yuk.” I calmed down and decided to have a conversation with this gentleman before I drew any conclusions.

Perhaps it is because my father was a disciplined man, and I tended to follow his example, that there are aspects of ‘discipline’ that I took/take for granted that make the thought of spending eight hours on the subject seem excessive.

When I think of the term ‘discipline’ it has more to do with training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, and the use of ‘punishment’ when corrective behavior is necessary. For our purposes, however, I will use the term “Disciplined,” in the context of holding oneself to inner and outer standards with control and moderation.

Like much of who I have become, my self-discipline ‘evolved’ over time. Watching my father helped me see an individual who achieved because he was willing to forego certain immediate rewards to achieve more over the long term. I never saw my father ‘indulge’ in drinking, smoking, overeating, although I’m sure there was a dessert or two along the way. In my Emotional Intelligence world my father would have had extremely high Impulse Control.

Maybe that is where self-discipline begins. The willingness to forego some behaviors (impulses) in favor of those I perceived would help me ‘get ahead.’ To be self-disciplined, you need to be able to motivate yourself to meet the goals that you set for yourself. You don’t need anyone’s outside help to get done what needs to get done. You do what you said you would – whether that was said to yourself or someone else, and even if you don’t feel like it.

My brother was four and a half years older. When it came to learning sports, I was constantly trying to beat him, at something. That took many years. Along the way I watched him and practiced the fundamentals of shooting a basketball, throwing, fielding, and hitting a baseball, and growing taller and physically stronger. I was motivated to get physically better at sports. Soon, that would also apply to schoolwork. All behavior change is driven by our ability to close the gap between where we are and where we want to be. The wider the gap the more motivated we are.

Often, I see this in emerging leaders. They are highly motivated to ‘do better’ to get ahead. Knowing what they ‘want’ in the short and long term can help us understand what will motivate them.

When I think of discipline and leadership, they go hand in hand. The best leaders that I have known have all been self-disciplined. This wasn’t just about their work. It most often applied to their life – sleep, diet, exercise, meeting deadlines, following through, avoiding temptations that could do damage to all that was important to them, investing in their children, investing in themselves, investing in their people, investing in being the best they could be at home, at work, in the community.

The word I hear today more than discipline is ‘intentional.’ They evaluate all their life from the lens of, “Is this getting me what I want?” If you watch them closely you see that their life may not be a linear path where everything falls in place and always makes sense, but it often does. They will have moments in life that rock their world, which knock them off center. So, what do they do? They adjust. They know their core and guiding values, and they evaluate choices from that framework. There is a lot of alignment in what they do and what they say. There is often an authenticity to them that makes you want to work with and for them.

A quick comment about self-disciplined people. They will make choices that undermine who they are. Those choices can damage their reputation. In the aftermath of those moments, we find out the discipline they use to get back on a better path, or not.

How would I evaluate those that seem less self-disciplined? It is not as important to them to forego a behavior, or behaviors to invest in a behavior that has some future benefit. Is that a problem? I don’t know, is it? All of us have some regrets. We wish we had made some other choice. What I do know is that being able to control myself has been essential to my happiness and success.

I happen to believe that self-discipline is learned. It was advantageous to have a father who had self-discipline and helped me get there faster than I might have. In the end, we all face a choice, or a series of choices, which is about our future and what we want it to look like. To what degree are our beliefs about ourselves inhibiting our ability to make better choices? In what way does our self-talk work against making more positive choices, thinking instead, “There is no way I can do that.”

Discipline may be seen by others as ‘sacrifice.’ I have seen it in my life as ‘investing.’ I learned that investing often has an element of sacrifice, and the sacrifice takes us to another level of ability, to function, and to excel in life.

I still can’t see me conducting a workshop on discipline for an entire day, but I can see me facilitating people talking about their stories of self-discipline, and some stories of lack of self-discipline. And in those stories will be ‘nuggets’ for us that we can use to make change, to open a few more doors to a grander life. Have you ever noticed that the richness of our lives and those of the people around us are in our stories? Those stories encourage us, motivate us, connect us in our sorrow and in our joy. What is your story; what has the path of self-discipline looked like? Would spending part of your day talking about it be worth your while?

Toward a better you…