The Freedom of Self-Discipline

Category: Processes Published on Sep 13 2016

“To achieve excellence, one needs self-discipline to control urges and short-term temptations.” Ichak Adizes, Author Corporate Lifecycles


Many small business owners start their businesses because they have a talent and a passion to bring the benefits and outcomes of that talent to others. As an example, think of the person who has a talent for baking and a passion for bringing delightful, sweet treats to harried women and their families. This person, let’s call her Pearl, starts by selling cakes and cookies from home and soon after opens a store front in a trendy little town. Pearl is wildly successful because she is:


 - Talented and produces high quality treats that her customers are unable to resist and 

 - Passionate which draws in many new customers.


In the short-run, Pearl will do very well. However, as Pearl’s Patisserie grows, it’s likely that she will begin to feel harried and overwhelmed. To achieve continuing excellence and growth, Pearl will need a certain amount of focus and self-discipline so she can avoid shiny baubles*. She will also need to introduce some structure into the business or the business will run her, instead of the other way around.


Pearl is likely to resist this change as she is already too busy running the business (or really being run by it) to be excited about investing time into non-essential tasks. However, it’s critical that Pearl shift her focus from doing more to doing smarter. In other words, it’s time to prioritize becoming more effective. For example, instead of promoting Pearl’s Patisserie 10 different ways, it’s time to discover which three methods are drawing the most quality customers and focus on only those three methods. By placing more time and energy into each remaining activity Pearl will save time and leverage her results.


This is a dangerous time because a balance must be found between the doing more and doing smarter. Change needs to be rapid enough to keep Pearl from having a nervous breakdown and slow enough to not adversely impact creativity and growth.


What enables this delicate balance? Understanding your company’s internal brand.


Remember, your inernal brand is made up your vision, mission, values and company belief systems. Therefore, it encompasses all of the elements of your company that will remain the same over time as well as those that will change gradually. In a way, your internal brand provides a frame or box in which you have the flexibility and security to make any changes and know that they will strengthen your brand. It also provides the guidance you require to create the structure of a larger, more mature business.


For Pearl, and for you, exerting self-discipline is a dangerous time. It may:

 - Stifle creativity and future growth

 - Go too far in the opposite direction

 - Cause you to listen to ‘bad’ advice

 - Trigger the belief that structure means change and loss of passion

Stifle Creativity: Remember, self-discipline and creativity is not an either / or choice. Instead it is like the Yin and the Yang. They exist simultaneously with an ‘and’. Ideally, one should complement and enhance the other.

Opposite Direction: Similarly, there is the risk that Pearl could go too far in the other direction. I have found that most individuals upon discovering that their current approach is not working, will reverse course and go too far in the opposite direction. I think of this as the pendulum affect. When the pendulum reaches the end of its trajectory it swings back in the opposite direction, bypassing the happy medium, until it reaches almost the same distance from the center in the opposite direction. A wiser course of action is for Pearl to temper her actions and make smaller changes that will bring about the desired results.

Bad Advice: Pearl would not be alone in succumbing to bad advice. I have followed some myself, and if you’ve been in business for any length of time I would bet that you have also. Here’s the thing, we fall for bad advice simply because on its surface, it does not appear bad. It’s usually proffered by someone hugely successful and highly intelligent, so who am I to ignore it? The problem is that this individual is handing out the same advice to everyone she meets - and it may or may not be in sync with your brand. If it is not congruent with your brand promise, it is bad advice regardless of how many people became rich and successful using it.

Trigger Structure Beliefs: Most truly passionate and creative business people are resistant to adding structure because they believe that it will be the beginning of bureaucracy and an end to the joy. However, when self-discipline is established correctly, it provides more room for Pearl, and for you, to be creative and design the company in a way that works for you.


Implemented properly, self-discipline creates a focus that enhances and enables your passion and assists in identifying the shiny baubles that distract you from your purpose. Once Pearl is clear about what is important and what is not, it becomes easier for her to apply self-discipline. It will be faster and easier for her to say no to shiny baubles, those urges and short-term temptations mentioned in the quote. And as a result, Pearl will be rewarded by accomplishing more and feeling less stressed.


While self-discipline sounds painful and negating, in actuality it is empowering and leads to excellence. Instead of getting rid of self-discipline, perhaps what we should really do is find a new word that expresses the growth, success, and freedom that it provides.



*A shiny bauble is any distraction that looks like an opportunity.