Jim Collins in his classic book “Good To Great”, highlights the idea that blazing a path toward excellence requires “disciplined people engage in disciplined thought and take disciplined action.” Building on that idea, I wanted to know specifically what disciplines are most important for leaders to master. In my first book, “Wide Awake Leadership; the Power to Overcome Mediocrity” I devoted a chapter to the five disciplines of self-leadership. The book encourages leaders to walk down this path toward disciplined leadership;

  1. Control your time
  2. Fuel your energy
  3. Temper your emotions
  4. Choose your words
  5. Exercise your power

In my own personal struggle against the temptation of mediocrity in life and business, I have pondered, what are the mile markers along the road toward greater discipline? Three simple principles keep showing up and warrant special attention. People that I respect and admire model these principles and inspire me to practice them consistently.

Principle 1: Delayed Gratification

Professor on Neuro-Psychology Bill Anton, emphasizes in his lectures on brain development that it is imperative that we must do the “harder thing first.” Many are familiar with the now famous “marshmallow study” where kids were left in a room with a marshmallow in front of them, and told them if they held off on eating the lone treat, they would receive two marshmallows later. The study revealed that those that resisted the temptation to devour the sweet, soft candy in front of them showed a variety of signs of a higher level of performance throughout the course of their lives. The path toward disciplined leadership development must involve the ability to do the harder thing first. Front load your mornings and your week with complexity, difficulty, and less enjoyable efforts and a higher level of success and performance will follow.

Principle 2: Advanced Decision Making

When is the best time to make an emotional and difficult decision? I can assure you that it is not in the heat of the battle. Dwight Eisenhower is attributed as saying, “All plans fail in the heat of battle, therefore plans are dispensable but planning is not.” The power rests in the planning, not in the plan. As the pace of life and business accelerates, it is rare that we value the time and practice of strategic thinking. However, success in the heat of battle requires that we have thought through tough issues in advance. What values will we not violate? What kind of person and or company do we want to be? Where are the potholes on our journey toward excellence and leadership development? Our better decisions are found in advance of encountering the enemy.

Principle 3: Small Celebrations Along The Way

I am convinced you become what you celebrate. Any time you experience success in your desire to practice discipline in leadership, it warrants some celebration. If there is an absence of enjoyment in your desire to be a disciplined leader, others will not follow. If there is no joy, no compelling nature to your leadership, you will be engaged in a constant battle. If leaders are wrestling continuously, exhaustion will undermine any progress on the road to disciplined leadership. Disciplined leaders celebrate victories, because they know the battle is never over.