Leadership Quality #18: Self-Discipline – The First Person you Lead is you

The first and best victory is to conquer self. – Plato, Philosopher

There are many examples in the sporting world of the difference self-discipline makes. People that include training on a Sunday so they get in 52 more training sessions than their competitors, or athletes that don’t stop training in the ‘off-season’ so they don’t have to build up in the same way ahead of the season. That level of discipline is important in the field of leadership too. You may have heard Robin Sharma talk about the 5 am club. That the time of least interruptions is between 5 am and 8 am in the morning, so instead of checking social media or reading emails, you could get in exercise, meditate or journal, self-development and attend to your goals. No one achieves and sustains success without it. No matter how gifted a leader is, his/her gifts will never reach their maximum potential without the application of self-discipline. It positions a leader to go to the highest level and is a key to leadership that lasts. If you want to become a leader for whom self-discipline is an asset, follow these action points:

  1. Develop and follow your priorities – Anyone who does what he/she must only when he/she is in the mood or when it’s convenient, isn’t going to be successful. Nor will people respect and follow them as a leader. Someone once said, “To do important tasks, two things are necessary: a plan and not quite enough time”. As a leader, you already have too little time. Now all you need is a plan. If you can determine what’s really a priority and release yourself from everything else, it’s a lot easier to follow through on what’s important. and that is the essence of self-discipline.
  2. Make a disciplined lifestyle your goal  – Self-discipline isn’t a one-time event. It has to become a lifestyle. One of the best ways to do that is to develop systems and routines, especially in the areas crucial to your long-term growth and success.
  3. Challenge your excuses – To develop a lifestyle of discipline, one of your first tasks must be to challenge and eliminate any tendency to make excuses. As French classical writer François La Rochefoucauld said, “Almost all our faults are more pardonable than the methods we think up to hide them”. If you have several reasons why you can’t be self-disciplined, tell the truth that they are really just a bunch of excuses – all of which need to be challenged if you want to go to the next level as a leader.
  4. Remove rewards until the job is done – Author Mike Delaney remarked, “Any business or industry that pays equal rewards to its goof-offs and its eager-beavers sooner or later will find itself with more goof-offs than eager beavers”. If you lack self-discipline, you may be in the habit of having dessert before eating your vegetables. Consider that you need a system for teamwork. One family who loves camping gets the camp set up in 15mins, with maximum participation from the children; their system, nobody goes to the bathroom until the camp is set up! That may not work in an office environment, however, there are some fun games you can play to support self-discipline.
  5. Stay focused on the results – Any time you concentrate on the difficulty of the work instead of its results or rewards, you’re likely to become discouraged. Dwell on it too long, and you’ll develop self-pity instead of self-discipline. The next time you’re facing a must-do task and you're thinking of doing what’s convenient instead of paying the price, change your focus. Count the benefits of achieving the result and then dive in.


Author H. Jackson Brown Jr quipped, “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards or sideways”. If you know you have talent, and you’ve seen a lot of motion – but little concrete results – you may lack self-discipline. Review last week’s schedule. How much of your time did you devote to regular, disciplined activities? Did you do anything to grow and improve yourself professionally? Did you engage in activities promoting good health? Did you dedicate part of your income to savings or investments? If you’ve been putting off those things, telling yourself that you’ll do them later, you may need to work on your self-discipline.

To improve your self-discipline, do the following:

  • Sort out your priorities – Think about which two or three areas of life are most important to you. Write them down, along with the disciplines that you must develop to keep growing and improving in those areas. Develop a plan to make the disciplines a daily or weekly part of your life.
  • List the reasons – Take the time to write out the benefits of practicing the discipline you’ve just listed. Then post the benefits someplace where you will see them daily. On the days when you don’t want to follow through, re-read your list.
  • Get rid of excuses – Write down every reason why you might not be able to follow through with your disciplines. Read through them. You need to dismiss them as the excuses they are. Even if a reason seems legitimate, find a solution to overcome it. Don’t leave yourself any reasons to quit. Remember, only in the moment of discipline do you have the power to achieve your dreams.

A nursery displays this sign on it’s wall: “The best time to plant a tree is 25 years ago…the second best time is today.”  Plant the tree of self-discipline in your life today.

Part 18 of our Leadership Series: Leadership is an Inside Job, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader


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