The difference between successful and unsuccessful leaders usually boils down to one thing; self-discipline. As observed by Jim Rohn, discipline is the bridge between aspiration and accomplishment. Successful leaders subject themselves to a regimen of restrictions and self-denials; they do the unpleasant but necessary tasks that will take them to the desired end; they avoid the pleasurable but incapacitating activities that will short-circuit their plans and aspirations. They do not spare themselves; they keep pushing the frontiers and ensure they do whatever they need to do so that they can achieve the goals they have set for themselves.
But not so the undisciplined leaders; they engage in self-indulgence. They permit excuses and bend rules to satisfy their yearnings. They cannot stand the temporary inconvenience which is a requirement of self-discipline. They detest the rigour of self-discipline but love the pleasure of circumvention. Because of their penchant for shunning what is necessary though inconveniencing, they end up falling short of the actualization of their expectations.
Self-discipline is sine qua non to a leader’s sustainable success. Leaders consistently subject themselves to self-discipline to achieve lasting success. Those who are more particular about giving in to indulgence end up as failures. At best what they achieve is fleeting success.
What is self-discipline?
Self-discipline is resolving to do whatever it takes to achieve a goal, irrespective of the attendant inconveniences. Self-discipline is not something imposed by external forces or interests on the leader; it is a measure he chooses to take after considering what he intends to accomplish; and bearing in mind everything he needs to achieve the feat. That is where the rubber meets the road. Everyone wants to be successful but not everyone is willing to pay the price for success. The price for success is self-discipline. Self-discipline has two components; doing what is not convenient but necessary and restraining oneself from what is convenient but largely a waste of time and effort.
Cost of indiscipline
Indiscipline is the incinerator of destiny, the destroyer of values, the furnace of talents and the slayer of hope. Indiscipline reduces a giant to a wimp, makes mincemeat of capacity, and robs nobility of its grace. Many lives have been shattered by it. Many organizations have been reduced to rubble by it. Indiscipline destroyed Enron Corporation, the energy giant; turned Robert Mugabe, a freedom fighter, into a hermit in his old age; and made Nigeria, despite her huge potential, into poverty headquarters of the world. When indiscipline shows up excellence flees; where there is indiscipline, creativity is bowed; where indiscipline holds sway progress is shackled. Whoever is given to indiscipline builds only to destroy. Hence, the wise avoid indiscipline like a plague.
At the peak of his musical career, Majekodunmi Fasheke, popularly known as Majek Fashek, was the toast of everyone. He enjoyed global recognition, performing with international stars like Michael Jackson, Tracy Chapman, Beyonce, Snoopy Dog and Jimmy Cliff, among others. He was the first African to perform on the rested legendary Late Night Show with David Letterman. So good was Majek Fashek that he was once signed to Interscope Records.
The track, Send Down the Rain, in his hit album, Prisoner of Conscience, released in 1988, was turned into a national anthem of sort as it became the favourite of virtually every music lover in the country. The album eventually won many awards nationally and globally. Other albums soon followed; I&I Experience in 1990, So Long Too Long in 1991and Spirit of Love in 1992.
Career success located Fashek. So did fame and wealth. He was courted by political leaders and hosted by royalty. The world was in his pocket and a glorious future awaited him.
But Fashek became indulgent despite being hard working. He fell in love with the bottle and could not resist the lure of marijuana and cocaine. The more he indulged in these, the less attention he gave his career. The more he ignored his career, the more the world ignored him. Eventually, he abandoned his career for his indulgence. As a consequence, the world abandoned him. He crashed from his enviable height. He lost everything; his fame, wealth, health and even dignity. He did not only become poor and sick, he also became a beggar. What he achieved by diligence was eventually lost to indulgence. The celebrity became a nonentity and had to be confined in a rehabilitation centre.
Majek Fashek got the full reward of indiscipline.
Leader and self-discipline
No one can lead successfully without embracing self-discipline. One of the factors that give authenticity to leadership is self-discipline. Leaders are endeared to others and enjoy the respect of their followers when they hold themselves accountable to the same standards to which they hold their followers accountable. For a leader to instill discipline in the system where he operates, he must first be self-disciplined. Leaders are models. So, their examples are imbibed by the followers. As opined by Phil Buckley, a change management professional, “People will emulate leaders’ behaviours, believing they have silent permission to parrot actions demonstrated at the top of the power hierarchy.”
So, if leaders condemn in others what they condone in themselves, they lose the respect of their followers.
Essentials of self-discipline
To practise self-discipline, leaders need to understand the following.
Self-discipline becomes necessary when there is a vision in place. Without a vision, self-discipline is an affliction because it turns out as a denial that is not meant to achieve anything; it becomes a punishment. What makes the pains of discipline joyful is what the envisioned end. So, a clearly stated vision must precede a regimen of self-discipline to make the exercise worth the while. No great vision can come into fruition without discipline. Discipline helps the leader to stay on course until the vision is realized.
John Maxwell popularized the philosophy of pay now, play later or play now, pay later. According to him, in life, everyone has to pay at one point or the other. Those who choose to delay gratification and pay early, stand a better chance of fair treatment by life than those who opt for instant gratification and are forced to pay when they are left with no other choice. According to Warren Buffet, what the wise do in the beginning, fools do in the end. By subjecting himself to self-discipline, a leader chooses to pay now so that he can play later. He makes the necessary sacrifice by choice so that he can reap the benefits of the sacrifice later as a matter of course.
Disciplined leaders are mindful of their thoughts; they do not just yield their mind to any thought. They guard their minds and protect same from assaults by any negative thought. They know the power of thoughts; they know that thoughts are seeds from which other things eventually manifest. They know that the thoughts allowed by an individual shape his perspective and affect the quality of his life. So, they deliberately allow their minds to dwell on issues that can advance their cause. They consciously mute any thought with any potentiality to derail them or affect their plans.
Disciplined leaders take this route because they know that thoughts (good or bad) form beliefs, beliefs determine expectations, expectations mould attitude, attitude determines behaviour and behaviour shapes performance.
So, everything starts with a thought. If the seed is good, the fruit cannot be bad.
Disciplined leaders do not only mouth the good intentions that they have; they go a step forward and let these show in their actions. Disciplined leaders know that success is a product of a process. If any part of the process is aborted, the final product will be impaired. Therefore, through thick and thin, they subject themselves to disciplined actions that can take them to the end product which they had envisioned before embarking on the process. Disciplined leaders are known by their disciplined actions. They do not allow a detour. They do not entertain any excuse, either from themselves or from others. They stay true to the actions outlined to take them to their end.
Leaders need discipline because oftentimes things happen suddenly and they are tempted to abandon what they had earlier planned to do. They are tempted to sacrifice the important for the urgent. It takes a huge dose of discipline for a leader to overlook the urgent and stay focused on the important. But without doing that, sustainable success will be elusive.
Dr Stephen Covey gives an insight on the importance of never sacrificing the important for the urgent. Using the analogy of big stones, small ones and a jar, he said that if in an attempt to fill the jar one starts with small stones, there will not be enough space in the jar for all the big ones. On the contrary, if one starts with the big stones, there will still be space for all the small ones after putting the big ones in the jar. He went on to add that even after putting the small stones in the jar, there will still be space for sand and water.
The import of the analogy is that if one starts with the important tasks, there will be ample time to effectively do them and there will still be opportunity to successfully execute the urgent ones. But whoever pays too much attention to routine or urgent tasks will invariably sacrifice many of the important tasks.
Disciplined leaders have trained themselves not to yield to the deafening noise of attention-seeking urgent matters. What they do instead is to stay focused on the most important issues. They take this position because they know that there will always be urgent matters which cannot take any organization anywhere. Going after urgent matters can only make a company go round in circle. Knowing that the success of any organization is tied to doing the important tasks, they opt for those ones and this explains why self-disciplined leaders leave a trail of successes.
Indiscipline is a pleasurable seed whose fruits are painful, those who are lured into it live in eternal regret.