Thoughts on Leadership: Discipline takes you from good to great

Being good at leadership is not “good enough,” as many leaders think. An extraordinary leader expects more. The legendary artist Michaelangelo once said, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Many “good” leaders fall short because they don’t believe that they are capable of achieving superstar performance levels. They believe that extraordinary leaders are born with certain qualities. They see amazing leadership much like they view a professional musician as having innate talents.

What they fail to realize is that talent – natural or not – is not what determines who will become an extraordinary leader or incredible musician. The real difference between a good leader and an extraordinary one lies in discipline. It’s much the same with music – research and evidence show that professional musicians are as good as they are because they have practiced more and had the interest and discipline to do it.

But what is discipline really? 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.”

By this definition, discipline is essential to an effective organizational process. Discipline begins at the top and works its way down.

Many young leaders go through a learning period in which they undergo training and personal coaching to become more effective. Once they gain experience, that same discipline is necessary to improve leadership among the team.

Most extraordinary leaders pursue their goals with controlled intent. They maintain discipline in order to stay focused in any situation.

In, “The Handbook for Leaders: 24 Lessons for Extraordinary Leadership,” John H. Zenger and Joseph Folkman discuss three ways to stay disciplined and help improve leadership qualities:

  • Push for improvement from everyone: Understand that it’s important that everyone improve on some level.
  • Take an interest: Become a perceptive observer of extraordinary leadership and model after these qualities.
  • Practice – don’t play – at leadership: Extraordinary leaders keep their focus and continue to build skills long after they achieve an adequate level of performance.

If you embrace this concept, that each of you can be an extraordinary leader with great discipline, then you will understand that good is not enough when better is possible.