[December 29, 2015] From Mahatma Gandhi to Winston Churchill to Theodore Roosevelt, all had something in common with the great leaders across history. Each had extreme self-discipline in their lives. Self-discipline helps people connect today’s behavior with tomorrow’s results; allowing a leader to know which is the right thing to do.
Good leaders live by their ability to establish a mission (goal or task) and to focus all their energy to achieve it. It means building internal strengths in the old-fashioned way. When combined with hard work, self-discipline makes it not just possible to achieve grand feats but to make just about anything is doable.
“With self-discipline most anything is possible.” – Theodore Roosevelt
When people talk about what they learned from being a member of the military, I have found that it nearly always comes back to the concept of self-discipline. As a U.S. Army veteran of 40 years, I learned about the struggle for discipline and the difficulty in achieving the mental strength to maintain it inside one’s self. Self-discipline meant that we needed to know our own strengths and weaknesses, our abilities and possibilities, and our desires and needs. For without that knowledge, discipline is not possible.
Rarely is self-discipline gained from an early age but … and this is important … it begins there. Adults who make a conscious decision to practice self-discipline will inevitably have a difficult go of it and many give up because of the hard work in doing so. Not unlike losing weight for health reasons, the first few pounds lost are easy, losing a few bad leader habits is also easy. With time, it becomes more and more difficult to lose weight and to lose all the bad habits.
Self-discipline also means ensuring that you as a leader are tested regularly and that the leader encourages honest and meaningful feedback from those who know the leader. Testing means that the leader consciously puts himself in a position that will be difficult to succeed and failure to be likely. By surviving those tests, the leader is more resilient for completing difficult tasks.
U.S. President Harry Truman once said that in his study of great men, that the “first victory they won was over themselves … self-discipline with all of them came first.” Of all the leaders who I’ve known personally in my time, all the great ones had a remarkable depth of self-discipline. And that is what distinguishes any leader from a great one.
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