Discipline is required to achieve success in business and in life. Too often the word has a pejorative connotation, but its Latin origin means instruction, knowledge and learning. Correspondingly, in the language of emotional intelligence, the concept involves exercising self-regulation in order to improve. Discipline means consistently acting in alignment with your values, long-term goals and self-imposed performance standards, despite expedience or taking the easy path. Discipline means mental independence, an ability to remain steadfast in the face of herd instinct and external pressures – having the inner will to do what it takes to create a great outcome, no matter how difficult.

The writings of Jim Collins, a passionately curious author, professor and researcher, speak to the importance of disciplined decision-making. In “Great by Choice,” discipline is the deciding factor in the success of the first two explorers who attempted to reach the South Pole over a century ago. Roald Amundsen’s team succeeded and returned; Robert Falcon Scott’s failed and perished. Collins also describes how discipline made Southwest Airlines extremely successful over its nearly 50-year history. It recently won its sixth consecutive “Domestic Carrier of the Year” award, while maintaining consistent profitability and exceptional return to shareholders.

Collins uses the metaphor of “The 20-mile march” to illustrate how discipline leads to success. Regardless of the weather, terrain or conditions, the explorer who succeeded committed to a steady 20-mile daily pace. Clear, intelligent plans, rigorous performance and unwavering commitment to steady progress were key. The successful team did not wait for sunny days to meet the goal, nor blame bad weather for failure. Steady, consistent action built confidence in their ability to perform in tough circumstances while reducing the likelihood of failure when tumultuous events occurred.

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