Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

How discipline creates great leaders

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“Discipline equals freedom.” This statement sounds like a contradiction because the word ‘discipline’ is most often used in the context of punishment or reining in improper behavior. In leadership, however, discipline creates power. Discipline leads to more flexibility and control over your every aspect of your life. Discipline creates great leaders.

horse race

One of the most difficult things for many people is getting out of bed in the morning. It’s not only about getting up early, but also getting up with first alarm clock. When the alarm clock goes off, do you get out of bed or do you lie there in comfort and fall back asleep?

Extreme OwnershipI recently finished the book EXTREME OWNERSHIP: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. They bring together their experience as Navy SEALs in the Iraq combat and apply them to leadership. They share examples of field combat and apply them leading teams in business. For every topic they discuss they state a clear principle with an “application to business” that helps you understand how to apply what they are teaching to your leadership.

The overall message of the book addresses the importance of owning the results of what you do. They cap it off with the importance of discipline in leadership. “If you have the discipline to get out of bed, you win, you pass the test.” According to Willink, waking up early was the difference between the good SEALs and great ones. Discipline is paramount to any leader and any team. When you have the discipline to get up early, you are rewarded with more free time. You can get more done in a given day.

The more discipline you and your team employ, the more freedom you will have to practice “decentralized command.” It may seem that having more disciplined procedures would take away freedom; but in fact, “discipline is that pathway to freedom.”

Another key to becoming a disciplined leader is knowing your team. It’s more than just knowing them at a superficial level, it’s knowing who they are and what drives them. It’s knowing their motivations, their lives, their families and their interests. However, a disciplined leader will never grow so close to a team member that he or she becomes more important than the other members of the team or the mission of the team itself.

The authors summarize “the dichotomy of leadership” into clear statements that describe how discipline creates great leaders. A great leader must be:

  • Confident but not cocky
  • Courageous but not foolhardy
  • Competitive, but a gracious loser
  • Attentive to details, but not obsessed by them
  • Strong but have endurance
  • A leader and a follower
  • Humble, not passive
  • Aggressive, not overbearing
  • Quiet, not silent
  • Calm, but not robotic
  • Logical, but not devoid of emotions
  • Close with the troops, but not so close that one becomes more important than another or than the good of the team
  • Able to execute extreme ownership while exercising decentralized command
  • A good leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove

Take a hard look at your leadership, and more importantly your discipline. Make the commitment to improve in at least one area over the next month.

Note: I actually listened to the audio version of Extreme Ownership, which I highly recommend. Jocko and Leif don’t have the best ‘radio voices’ but their passion and commitment to leadership and extreme owner come through loud and clear.

Questions: How has discipline helped your leadership? What has been the most difficult area of your life to discipline? I’d appreciate your leaving a comment in the space below.


The Product Management Perspective: Discipline and extreme ownership play a key role in your ability to create successful products over time. As you work to be completely in sync with the teams you rely on, and lead them with discipline, you will find your ability to predict timely product releases will increase. You will hit the mark with your products.

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2 thoughts on “How discipline creates great leaders

  1. I think that if you lead as do as I do not as I say you will build a great team

    • That’s a key part of motivating people and getting their commitment. Thanks for your insight Robbie.

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