The four years of my life that I spent in the United States Marine Corps shaped much of who I am today. And if I have to pin it down to a more specific influence, then it would be that of my Drill Instructors while I was in Boot Camp for the first three months of that time. The Marines have a reputation for being the most disciplined and most fearsome of the Armed Forces, and there’s good reason for that. The Marine Corps Drill Instructor is a master of discipline, and developing discipline in others.

As we look at the fourth qualification for the executive-leader, which is “self-controlled”, I thought the best example we could use would be the United States Marine Corps.

PARADE Contributing Editor Larry Smith, in his article How We Make Marines, points out some of the secrets of the Marine Corps Drill Instructor. One of the most important things that he points out about how they develop discipline in others by example. They realize first and foremost that if they don’t model the behavior first, then the recruits have nothing to emulate.

I think when developing discipline in yourself, this speaks to finding a mentor that exhibits great discipline or self-control. Talk to them regularly about what it takes to stay focused and control your thinking and feelings.

One thing that Drill Instructors do is focus on toughening them up.

Marine Corps Boot Camp is purposely filled with extremely challenging activities that are designed to push the recruit beyond their known limits. I know that the things that I did at the end of Boot Camp were virtually unimaginable before I entered that world. As far as applying this to the workplace, I would say that it’s a good idea to regularly stretch yourself. Try new things, and develop skills that you didn’t know that you had. Push yourself mentally and physically into places that you never thought that you could go, and you’ll begin to develop a mental toughness and self-confidence that’ll carry you a long way when challenges arise in your life or in your organization.

Drill Instructors also demand obedience.

And let me be clear about what I mean by obedience. Delayed obedience is not obedience. In a wartime situation, if you hesitate, you could be dead. The only acceptable form of obedience is instant and complete obedience. The recruit must possess the ability to follow the instructions of others. In the workplace, this is equally true. In fact, when I think about the biggest “problem” employees and situations in the organization that I’m in, most of the problems start from an inability to follow instructions.

Drill Instructors instill motivation by inspiring teamwork.

When recruits work together to reach specific goals, they tend to get pretty motivated. That motivation is contagious, and carries a certain energy with it. Motivation helps to push us and keep us performing the way that we should. In his article, Smith even points out that, “In the civilian world, you look for like-minded people who are similarly motivated to help you acquire discipline.” It’s when we can feed off of each other and keep our excitement level high about at project or task that we find the resolve inside of ourselves to press on despite challenges that may arise. It’s important to find “cheerleaders” in your circle of peers that can generate excitement with you.

Finally, Drill Instructors demand that recruits honor tradition.

This helps the sense of fighting for a higher cause. I also believe that self-discipline draws from this idea of committing yourself to a higher purpose. In the workplace it may mean that you want to drive an improved customer experience, or a more effective marketing campaign. Whatever it is, you must have something to believe in, and to honor above all else. Get in touch with your organizations mission statement, and if one doesn’t exist, then create a personal one. This will help you to keep yourself focused in the right direction.

The benefits of being self-disciplined (or self-controlled) are independence and confidence.

When you develop the ability to control your thoughts and emotions, then you’re also creating a situation where you need to rely less on other people in order to help you make solid decisions. Don’t take this the wrong way, I am a big fan of bouncing ideas off of others. But what I’m saying is that you’re more able to think clearly and objectively about situations, and can act more independently when needed.

This level of discipline also results in increased confidence. When you are able to stand strong in the face of adversity and challenge, you’ll begin to exude a confidence that others will notice. I’m not talking about a self-centered arrogance, but rather a strong knowledge that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can take on anything.

Questions to consider:

  • When it comes to discipline, are you leading by example?
  • Are you surrounding yourself with mentors and other leaders that can help you develop your self-discipline?
  • What new challenges can you take on today?
  • What new skills can you learn that will help you to toughen yourself up either mentally or physically?
  • Where can you be more instantly and completely obedient in your job right now?
  • Who can help you stay motivated by sharing successes with you?
  • What “higher cause” can you devote yourself to in order to give you better focus?

See more from the management by God series!

[management by God] get disciplined

by Dan King time to read: 5 min
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