Written by Joe Driscoll

November 24, 2009

Success is most frequently seen as a misleading snapshot, not the culmination of a long journey. The interview in the winner’s locker room focuses on the game winning home run, not the 200,000 practice swings that made it possible.

Significant accomplishments result not so much from genius, but rather from diligent effort applied over time. The diligent application of ordinary effort requires discipline. Discipline is the characteristic that differentiates the successful from the not so successful.

Henri Fayol was an early pioneer in the science of management. He was a recognized leader in the development of administrative theory. Fayol believed that management was not a personal talent, but rather a skill that could be learned. In 1910 Fayol articulated fourteen principles of management that are still recognized as the foundation for good management practice.

Principle #3 was Discipline. “Discipline is composed of obedience, application, energy, behavior, and respect between employers and employees. It is essential to any business. Without discipline, no enterprise can prosper.”

Preparation separates the winners and the losers. Preparation can’t be bought. It can’t be accomplished in one heroic effort. You can’t effectively prepare for a business presentation the night before the presentation any more than you can effectively cram for an exam or get in shape the week before a big game.

Preparation is accomplished by disciplined efforts over a consistent period of time. That’s why it’s so valuable. It is a hard earned asset. Discipline is a prerequisite to preparation.

Discipline is not about denial, it is about determination. Discipline begins with the selection of meaningful and attainable goals. The attainment of those goals results from the diligent application of ordinary effort over a period of time.

It’s the cumulative impact of the little things that are done right that separates the winners and the losers, the organized and the disorganized, the prompt and the tardy. Identifying those little things requires planning. Adhering to them requires discipline.

It takes discipline to practice. Practice makes perfect and perfection always looks easy. It only looks easy because of all the discipline it took to practice. Take the 200,000 practice swings and the home runs will follow.

Discipline is most effective when it is adopted not enforced. Forced discipline is denial based, adopted discipline is determination based. To be adopt discipline, one must appreciate its value.

Father Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame University, is well known for his long tenure as president of a major university as well as his distinguished and active public service career. He understands the importance of discipline. “If you want to live this kind of life (a busy and productive one) ….. you have to grab every free moment there is. That requires a certain amount of discipline to make every minute count.”

Discipline produces satisfaction. Problems are what develop when we take our eyes off our goals. Diversions are the excursions that result when discipline breaks down.

Successful organizations and productive people do not result from evolution. The result of an evolutionary organization or career is disorder and under performance. Effectiveness results from thought, analysis, choice, and disciplined execution. Without discipline, results are shaped by fate and happenstance.

The chief executive of a major financial company believes that a person who will not discipline himself in personal matters as well as in business is too often undependable when the going gets rough. “While I have rarely met a business person who doesn’t proclaim that they have the drive and desire for progress, far fewer demonstrate the discipline required to achieve it.”

Through experience and experimentation, determine what needs to be done and then be disciplined enough to adhere to it. There is little magic in determining what needs to be done. For a variety of reasons however, the discipline to do it is often lacking.

There are reports that need to be read. There are customers that need to be called. There are employees that need to be heard. There are plans that need to be made. There are pleasures that need to be deferred. Develop the discipline to do the things that you know need to be done and you will accomplish your objectives.

It is not uncommon to stay busy with the things that we like to do, but it’s more important to be disciplined enough to do the things that we need to do. It is not sufficient to say that you are busy, it is important to insure that you have the discipline to be busy doing the right things.

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