Champions are not made on the field of play, they are only rewarded there. Champions are made from their daily routines. They work on sharpening their reflexes so every move they make becomes second nature. Champions never take short cuts because they know it will only expose a weakness. No matter how gifted an athlete is, they will never reach their maximum potential without self-discipline.
Just like athletes, leaders must be the masters of self-discipline.
During seminars, one of the most common things I hear people say about leadership is: “It’s easy for you, because you were born with these gifts.” While I agree that some people naturally have greater gifts than others, the ability to lead is a learned skilled which can be continually improved upon.
I grew up in the area my family lives in now and every so often we run into old classmates. You know how this goes, at some point they ask: “So what are you doing now?” My answer always brings awkward faces because the fact that Justin Ledvina ended up being the CEO of a multi-million dollar company, a published author and public speaker is just shocking to many. Indeed it is so shocking that some members of my own family have yet to wrap their heads around this. Why should this be? Well, I never showed any ability as a leader in my younger days. This is a skill learned later on in my life that I constantly work hard on.
A great example of someone who didn’t have all the raw talent but became great through self-discipline is Larry Bird. Even though I’m from New England, most would agree that during the ‘80’s, if the game was on the line, then you wanted the ball in Larry’s hands. We can also agree that he didn’t dazzle us with his blazing speed or atomic dunks. He was great at putting the ball in the basket from some of the most ugly angles. Larry spent most of his youth shooting the ball into the hoop. When he became a pro he knew that his talents alone would not keep him there. Bird was always he first to practice and the last to leave and he worked hard on hitting shots from anywhere on the court.
This is why I believe anyone can become a successful leader through self-discipline.
What is self-discipline?
Self-discipline is the ability to get yourself to take an action regardless of your emotional state.
Why is self-discipline important to being a successful leader?
Author H. Jackson Brown Jr. once said: “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards, or sideways.”
Imagine how long people would follow you if they never know what direction you were going to take them in. Followers are looking for leaders they can depend on, they are not looking for a constant state of chaos and confusion.
Here are some key points I focus on to develop my self-discipline.
Cut the excuses
Excuses are the reason why we stop doing something or anything. I’d be lying if I told you Justin wasn’t the king of excuses. I had a reason why I couldn’t do anything except be a loser. Proof of this is the shock mentioned earlier when people find out how successful I’ve become. Making excuses why we can’t do something or why we have to stop doing something is easy. We all do it at some level. To me, this is why there are so few successful leaders and so many followers. Anytime an excuse pops into my head I challenge myself to replace it with just one reason to fight through the pain.
To help cut down on my excuses I take a few minutes out of each week to set up a schedule. Nothing like a minute-by-minute break down of each day, instead it’s just some key objectives to keep me on track.
As an example, last week it was decided to increase our company’s presence in the market. Part of this required me to design all new advertising. I took a few minutes to figure out how many ads we needed and approximately how long each one would take. From there I was able to create some quick objectives that were broken down over the course of the week. I shared these objectives with my team to hold me accountable. This prevented me from making up excuses and trying to cram all of that work in at the last moment. In this situation, if I had allowed myself to make excuses and ended up not getting the project done, it would not only have hurt myself but would have hurt everyone else associated with the project.
Know my skill level
Even though leaders are visionaries, do not assume this means they do not think in reality. I am constantly aware of where my skills are at. This allows me to raise the bar slightly, each day, forcing myself to push further without discouragement. Being unaware where a skill is at and raising the bar too high, we set ourselves up for failure.
Life experiences have taught me that slowly building up my skills each and every day is easier long term than trying to change them drastically overnight because doing the latter has always lead me to burn outs. The goal here is a steady, constant growth and not a roller coaster of large up and down swings.
Focus on the results
This one is key for me and let me share with you why. The second my eyes are taken off the prize, my brain starts to focus on all the hard work instead. Wow, just reading what I wrote there sent a shiver down my spine. When I’m focused on the work and not the results of my work, the feeling of being an employee creeps in. Every one of you that is self-employed probably got that same feeling. It is so much easier to do the work when you can envision the fruits of your labor.
Something I’ve done to keep myself focused on the results is put visuals in my work area. My mission statement, which is my big goal, is clearly visible in my office. Actually this is the very first thing I look at each work day to remind myself why all the hard work put in is well worth it. Under my whiteboard, which sits one foot to the right of my desk, are printouts of progress of some of my smaller goals. As an example during the writing of our first book I printed out the cover and a few of the pages. I cut them out to the exact size the book was going to be and taped them to the wall.
Learning to be a leader doesn’t happen overnight, because like anything worth having it takes time and dedication to achieve. We must be willing to pay the price and go through the process. The good news is we will see progress along the way. Don’t forget this is a never-ending road. You must be willing to constantly soak up knowledge like a sponge along the way.
When we practice good self-discipline, everything we do becomes second nature and we no longer think deep on our actions. Your ability to lead becomes rapid-fire reflexes like a champion athlete.