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Leadership Traits – Discipline
By Gerald Gillis

Have you developed the disciplined habits that will give you the momentum to move forward as a leader? Do you have the discipline to hone your existing skills and to develop new ones? If not, can you develop the discipline required to move from being good to exceptional as a leader?

Merriam-Webster defines discipline as, “Training that is expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.”

While natural talent is necessary and important, whether as a business leader, musician, athlete, or military commander, talent alone is simply not enough. What many fail to understand is that what determines who will become an extraordinary leader is the discipline to practice, to perpetually learn and improve, and to provide a sound example to others in the organization.

Like so many other qualities, discipline begins at the top and filters down throughout the organization. Can you identify specific qualities that disciplined organizations so often exhibit? I’ll offer a few examples for your consideration:

  • Exceptional focus. Steve Jobs decided to prune the list of Apple’s active products down to a relative few, and then to focus intensively on making those remaining products industry leaders. Ritz-Carlton, in its focus upon customer service, instructed every employee that the ownership of any customer issue or complaint they personally received consequently rested exclusively with them. Discipline is an enabler of focus; focus then reinforces discipline.
  • Ability to function under duress. When its Tylenol bottles were criminally tampered with in 1982, resulting in 7 deaths, Johnson & Johnson initiated a recall of 31 million bottles with a value of $100 million. They also distributed warnings to hospitals and distributors and halted Tylenol production and advertising. An undisciplined organization would have been crushed under the weight of such urgent logistical stresses, not to mention the intense public scrutiny that surrounded the event.

  • Ability to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. Operational agility has been a hallmark of the U.S. Marine Corps throughout its existence. Marine unit leaders train and instill the necessary discipline to adapt to changing battlefield conditions, whether in a counterinsurgency street battle or a large-scale engagement in the desert. Highly disciplined Marines have the ability to adapt and succeed under virtually any circumstances.

So, do you have the discipline to be great? If not, begin taking steps to improve. Set goals that require discipline, and then achieve those goals. Set an example of disciplined behavior that others can and will follow. Don’t let carelessness or sloppiness stand between you and greatness.

Gerald Gillis is the author of the award-winning historical novel “Shall Never See So Much.” Gerald’s forthcoming novel, a business thriller, is due for release in the Fall, 2012. Visit his website at and his blog at

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