Discipline: The Un-Sexy Side of Leadership

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Picture this: It’s 1998. A newly minted second lieutenant arrives at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. She’s already passed the intense physical trials the Corps put her through. Now, as a young officer assigned to Headquarters Battalion, she’s on her own and adulting:

  • She has a steady paycheck
  • She has a Jeep Wrangler
  • She just signed a lease to her apartment in Kailua

She’s in charge and calling the shots.

One of her first acts of liberation is deciding that every morning on the drive to base, she’s going to get a whole milk latte and a muffin … err, cake, really … at the local coffee shop. She’s also deciding that she and her team are only going to PT together three times a week, which is less than she’s used to … more than they’re used to, so win, right? She also decides that since it’s really hard to cook for one person, she’s going to eat more fast food.

You see what’s coming, right?  

Fast forward a few months. One morning, as she attempts to put on the baggiest set of cammies she owns, the buttons won’t button. Strange, she thinks. It must be the dryer. But, after cammie set #2 doesn’t fit, she confronts reality – the problem is her … and a series of steady, consistent, poor choices that are leading her toward the unintended consequences of self-neglect and further away from the Corps’ health and fitness standards.

This is when the young woman decides to make a trip down the road of self-candor and discipline, with a few important decisions to counter the bad ones:

  • No sweets and baked goods first thing in the morning
  • Workout at least four days a week
  • Learn to cook at least four meals at home each week
  • Wake up when your alarm goes off … the first time

And then, for the rest of her life, she keeps adding to her personal rule list that helps regulate and guide her behavior toward the person she aspires to be. What I realized is that you have to own it and be accountable. And admittedly, sometimes to achieve your goals it may be hard to have the discipline to just do it. Like me, you may find times where you hate it, but have to find ways to just do it anyways.

The result? The woman I am today who wakes up at 5:00am and moves purposefully, efficiently through my day, accomplishing goals, crossing off to-do’s, and smelling the roses from time to time. The woman who’s fundamentally happy because she’s learned to master the art of discipline. And I know you can reinvent yourself, too.

Now, discipline isn’t the sexiest word in the leadership dictionary – yet, you can’t lead yourself, or others, without it. If you can’t be anchored in habits that drive your success, and trust yourself to follow through on commitments you make, how can you ask others to follow you?

To be clear: being disciplined isn’t about working out. In my case, fitness  was a Marine Corps standard and expectation, so it was a critical job requirement at the time. Discipline is really about being able to prioritize, self-manage, adhere to goals, uphold your commitments to yourself and others, and leave no room for excuses as to why things aren’t going as planned.

I challenge you: if you’re having a hard time right now addressing personal change, starting a goal, or realizing your success, why not start with thinking about creating a few unbreakable rules to follow? Start small, create a list, and keep adding to it. It’s worked wonders for me. Just imaging where you’ll be a year from now if you start building small disciplines in your day starting right now? Go! Try it, I dare you.

Feeling stuck? Seek out an accountability partner. And if that doesn’t move the needle, you up your game with a private, confidential executive coach (from yours truly) or to join my on-demand Career Transformation eCourse and app, with Group Coaching, that can help give you the nudge you need.

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