discipline : training, schooling, indoctrination, enforcement, regulated activity, prescribed habit, training in obedience.

Sounds rough, doesn’t it? There’s a whiff of “or else” about the whole concept of discipline. Recruits to any of the armed services are going to become extremely familiar with the concept of “training in obedience” and there are some free spirits around that refuse to have anything to do with that dirty word ‘discipline’.

But what about self-discipline? An interesting thing happened when I consulted my numerous dictionaries – it rarely appeared. While ‘discipline’ with all its external enforcement of behaviour is there in all its gory detail – the word ‘self-discipline’ is very hard to find.

However you will hear thankful parents console themselves, when their child decides

on a military career, on the fact that “they will learn self-discipline”. And yet – one of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my struggle up the leadership ladder was the art of self-discipline. For all the “training in obedience” the one lesson the army didn’t teach me was self-discipline, that was a lesson I had to learn myself. What the army did teach me was the consequences of not having it!

I did a little ring around my family and work colleagues to find out what they thought about self-discipline. One decided it is “disciplining yourself” which didn’t get me very far. Another thoughtfully suggested that it was “having the courage to refuse things that were not good for you” and as I put the phone down I consigned the chocolate biscuits to the waste bin, because of course she is right – *sigh*

But while it is obviously better for us if we do refuse things which are not good for us, I believe that is more a case of exercising ‘self-control’ rather than ‘self-discipline’. And self-control does make it to the dictionary; it is defined as “exercising restraint” so perhaps what it focuses on is more about “not doing things” rather than “doing things”.

My partner Trish tells me that self-discipline is about “taking control of what you do” which is getting there I think, but then she has been around me for well over ten years!

Finally I spoke to another army friend who had been my superior at one time in the military, and who told me quite crisply that I ought to have remembered, it was after all a lesson I had trouble in learning “Self-discipline is deliberately accepting the responsibility of beginning and completing tasks that we rather not do.”

So to me, self discipline is training ourselves to accept tasks that need doing, especially when we find them disagreeable, unpleasant or even unpalatable! It is one of the real principles of leadership which underpins all the visions, the values, the support, the recognition – in fact it should be the basic foundation on which all leadership is build; but like the dictionaries I consulted, it is often missing from the leadership training manuals.

Without Self-Discipline we can find ourselves collapsing at the end of a busy day, with wine in hand congratulating ourselves on the number of things we did during the day. But I wonder if we were to count the tasks we had completed we would be so self-indulgent!

It is Self-discipline that focuses our efforts towards the completion of tasks when they become boring; it is self-discipline that makes us put aside other less important things that distract us; it is self-discipline that keeps us focused on the task in hand until it is completed and finished.

It is Self-discipline that makes us recognise that procrastination is a killer; it humorously puts the “Eat that Frog” sign on the desk as a dutiful reminder we are lacking in it! It is the voice of conscience that wakes us in the middle of the night with the knowledge that it must be done – and it is lack of it that soothes us with the idea that we will begin it “soon”.

Leadership means just that, taking the lead. And that means we need to focus of what is needed, what is necessary – not just what is nice to do. Too many of us can fall into the trap of putting off difficult tasks and uncomfortable choices – and when we do we demonstrate a lack of self-discipline.

If we look at the various principles of leadership that are extolled in books and seminars, we should find (if we are honest) that they are like the food on our plate; important but lacking something without the seasoning of a hearty dose of Self-Discipline.

So while discipline can be seen as a dirty word, its personal counterpart self-discipline is an essence of leadership that needs to be taken out the waste bin and replaced in the dictionary of leadership.

Michele @ Trischel.

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