The #1 Unavoidable Leadership Fundamental

Feb 21, 2018DISC, Leadership, Performance Management

How to Cultivate Self Discipline for Leaders


Okay so it’s that time of year again. We are about to be bombarded with ads about gym memberships, diet plans, glorious pictures of beautiful people who never miss a run, don’t eat bread or drink coffee and can’t imagine what a hangover is!


Do you get excited every year about the possibility of changing your habits and becoming a completely new person? Good for you. There is a lot of hype around New Year and most of us have noticed the truth, that about 80% of us have broken our New Year’s resolution by the second week in Feb according to UK Insider. The Opinion Matters research in Ireland found that just 11.2pc of people said their resolutions lasted up to three months – 9.2pc of men and 13.1pc of women.


That said…. it is a great idea to start a new habit especially to get healthier and there’s a wonderful momentum come January the 1st to begin. So we’re saying, engage with the fresh start energy and we’ve put together some scientifically proven useful ways to make the habit stick this time around!


You may ask what has this all got to do with Leadership? According to Peter Drucker, the essential ingredient for taking a company to greatness is having a ‘Level 5’ leader, an executive in whom extreme personal humility blends paradoxically with intense professional will, ie Self Discipline.


Ron Price founder of The Complete Leader asks us to imagine a leader who tends to become distracted, who lacks self control, is unclear about what needs to be done next, or who cannot be trusted. Would you follow him?


People who want to lead must first demonstrate that they can lead themselves. Scott Jeffrey’s writes that while leadership focuses on how one influences others, self leadership is about observing and managing oneself. It requires qualities such as self-awareness, self-honesty and self discipline.


What is self discipline?

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”



Self discipline contrary to popular opinion is not something you’re either born with or not. We have the ability to shape ourselves into the type of person or leader that we want to be. Of course there are people who self discipline seems to come easier to than others.


What if you were to think about self discipline in another way? What if it wasn’t about changing who you were but changing what you do? Your life and results today mirror what you repeatedly think, do and say on a day to day basis. Our Complete Leader Ireland Facilitator Padraig Berry put together his own See Do Get Model which explains it better.



If we’re being honest we all know we’re capable of more. So what if we made some changes this year and actually made them stick? What would that look like?



The How to: Self-discipline


Change your approach

The number 1 Self Discipline takeaway for for us at TCL is from Darren Hardy who wrote the book Compound Effect and he tells us that the formula is simple:


“Small, Smart Choices + Consistency + Time = RADICAL DIFFERENCE.”


Small, smart choices, consistently applied over an extended period of time = HUGE results.


“The Compound Effect is the principle of reaping huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices. What most people don’t realize is that these small, seemingly insignificant steps completed consistently over time will create a radical difference.”


Think about it.  What if you decided to stop eating a desert every lunchtime and you added an extra kilometre to your steps each day? In the short term you wouldn’t notice a difference but in six months, you will have lost a lot of weight, gained stamina, felt mentally and physically better. As a result you may have taken up another healthy habit because of the success you felt!

Laser focus your Goal

Secondly you must have a single purpose, according to Brian Tracy:

‘When you focus your self-discipline on a single purpose, like sunlight through a magnifying glass on a single object, look out! The whole world will scramble to get out of your way, hold the doors open for you, and salute as you walk by.’


No more drastic New Year’s Resolutions, pick one area or discipline that you want to make changes and stick to it until you have it locked in.


Ask yourself or those around you for feedback:

  • Imagine someone you know who is a great leader, what is the one quality or habit that make that person stand out from the crowd?
  • What one habit would make me more productive in 2018? Eating better, sleeping better, exercising, reading more, better EQ?
  • When I have my most productive days, what exactly do I do?


The first thing is to bring awareness to this discipline or area and start tracking. Change begins with awareness. Why do you need to change and what is taking you away from your desired result? You know the Modus operandi – plan your work and work your plan!


The books Compound Effects and Miracle Morning teach us that we have more control over the beginnings and end of our days than the middle, so we’d be wise to start there. Good habits in the morning and evening establish a baseline for our best and most productive days.


Choose to begin to meditate for 5 minutes a day, or to do 5 crunches in the morning. Then you can’t run out of time or energy!

Create a new identity for yourself!

William James the father of modern psychology once said: ‘if you want a quality, act as if you already have it.’ Identity based goals are powerful. If you believe in yourself as a person who never eats junk food or who builds excellent Teams, then this confidence and belief drives you to change your habits.


According to James Clear

  1. Decide who you want to be
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.


Document your plan, your identity and your wins!


Increase your goals by 1%

Science says that incremental ‘tiny gains’ are better. Remember Dave Brailsford the Performance Director for British Cycling and currently Team Principal of Team Sky? His approach has always been the aggregation of marginal gains and led to a staggering 38 Olympic Medals in the last three Olympic games. So when you’re increasing your goal stick to the 1%.

Habit Stacking

The easiest way to start a new habit (besides starting small) is to attach it to another habit you have in place. The neural pathways already exist in your brain for this habit so you’re not developing a completely new one.


Who forgets to have their morning shower? Or to brush their teeth? Hopefully the answer is no one so how about stacking your new habit with your shower? Before you have your shower you can do your 5 minutes of meditation or your HIIT…

If- then- Implementation Intention

There will be times when you DON’T want to commit to your goals. This being a given for us human beings, it’s important to face it head on. Develop strategies. Use the If- then planning method.


Say to yourself, If I don’t want to exercise in the morning then I will ________ .


Create a physical list of how you will respond to specific scenarios that you can use as a go to when you aren’t motivated.


By getting to know yourself and your habits, you will be able to anticipate and manage your resistance and ambivalence. Remember your big ‘Why’


Have you got a motivating picture that reminds you of your why?

Don’t fly solo

Do you have an accountability partner or a coach? AMA Research shows that you have a 95% chance of success if you have an accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed to.

Get Back on Track

Whatever you commit to, no matter how hard you try there will be a day when you don’t succeed. Develop your resilience and instead of becoming derailed use it as the impetus to get right back on target straight away.


If we can sit with our ‘mistakes’ we can really learn from them. What was the lead up to this scenario? Is there a pattern I need to be aware of? What is that pattern and how can I manage it in the future? Jot down your learning, refine your plan.

Final thoughts

In a nutshell, start small, laser focus your goal, embrace your new identity, increase your performance by only 1% , use If-then planning, stack your new habit, get a coach and be resilient!


Think Kaizen, the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement through the aggregation of marginal gains, think progression not perfection!


Take one thing away today -If you want your new habit to stick, you must start small and increase small by manageable increments- the 1% rule.


“A real-life quantum leap is not Superman leaping a tall building. A real quantum leap is Edison perfecting the electric bulb after a thousand patient efforts—and then transforming the world with it.” ~ Jeff Olson (The Slight Edge)


We’d love to hear how you get on with your new Self Discipline habit so please let us know, like below and leave a comment.


If you have the hunger to be the best Leader or Emerging Leader you can be in 2018, please contact Padraig on + 353 1 662 4316


Our Complete Leader Programme is tailored specifically to suit your Leadership Team and designed to achieve measurable behaviour change and performance improvement.



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