The   First   Person   You   Lead   Is   You

The first and best victory is to conquer self.

 —Plato, Philosopher

A man without decision of character

can never be said to belong to himself . . .

He belongs to whatever can make captive of him.

—John Foster, Author

King   of   the   Hill

It's a tough road to the top. Not many people ever reach the place where they are considered one of the best at their work. And even fewer are believed to be the best—ever. Yet that's what Jerry Rice has achieved. He is called the best person ever to play wide receiver in football. And he has got the records to prove it.

People who know him well say he is a natural. Physically his God-given gifts are incredible. He has everything a coach would want in a receiver. Hall of Fame football coach Bill Walsh said, "I don't think there's been a guy equal to him physically." Yet that alone has not made him great. The real key to his success has been his self-discipline. He works and prepares—day in and day out—unlike anyone else in professional football.

The story of Rice's ability to push himself can be told in his experiences conquering hills. The first came in high school. At the end of each practice, B. L. Moor High School Coach Charles Davis used to have his players sprint twenty times up and down a forty-yard hill. On a particularly hot and muggy Mississippi day, Rice was ready to give up after eleven trips. As he sneaked toward the locker room, he realized what he was doing. "Don't quit," he told himself. "Because once you get into that mode of quitting, then you feel like it's okay." He went back and finished his sprints, and he has never been a quitter since.

As a professional player, he has become famous for his ability to sprint up another hill. This one is a rugged 2.5-mile park trail in San Carlos, California, that Rice makes a regular part of his workout schedule. Other top players try to keep up with him on it, but they fall behind, astounded by his stamina. But that's only a part of Rice's regular routine. Even in the off-season, while other players are fishing or lying around enjoying downtime, Rice is working, his normal exercise routine lasting from 7:00 A.M. to noon. Someone once joked, "He is so well-conditioned that he makes Jamie Lee Curtis look like James Earl Jones."

"What a lot of guys don't understand about Jerry is that with him, football's a twelve-month thing," says NFL corner-back Kevin Smith. "He's a natural, but he still works. That's what separates the good from the great."

Rice recently climbed another hill in his career: he made a comeback from a devastating injury. Prior to that, he had never missed a game in nineteen seasons of football, a testament to his disciplined work ethic and absolute tenacity. When he blew out his knee on August 31, 1997, people thought he was finished for the season. After all, only one player had ever had a similar injury and come back in the same season—Rod Woodson. He had rehabilitated his knee in four and a half months. Rice did it in three and a half—through sheer grit, determination, and incredible self-discipline. People had never seen anything like it before, and they might not again. And Rice continues to build his records and his reputation while helping his team win.

Fleshing   It   Out

Jerry Rice is a perfect example of the power of self-discipline. No one achieves and sustains success without it. And no matter how gifted a leader is, his gifts will never reach their maximum potential without the application of self-discipline. It positions a leader to go to the highest level and is a key to leadership that lasts.

If you want to become a leader for whom self-discipline is an asset, follow these action points:

1. Develop and Follow Your Priorities

Anyone who does what he must only when he is in the mood or when it's convenient isn't going to be successful. Nor will people respect and follow him. Someone once said, "To do important tasks, two things are necessary: a plan and not quite enough time." As a leader, you already have too little time. Now all you need is a plan. If you can determine what's really a priority and release yourself from everything else, it's a lot easier to follow through on what's important. And that's the essence of self-discipline.

2. Make a Disciplined Lifestyle Your Goal

Learning about any highly disciplined person, such as Jerry Rice, should make you realize that to be successful, self-discipline can't be a one-time event. It has to become a lifestyle.

One of the best ways to do that is to develop systems and routines, especially in areas crucial to your long-term growth and success. For example, because I continually write and speak, I read and file material for future use every day. And since my heart attack in December 1998, I exercise every morning. It's not something I'll do just for a season. I'll do it every day for the rest of my life.

3. Challenge Your Excuses

To develop a lifestyle of discipline, one of your first tasks must be to challenge and eliminate any tendency to make excuses. As French classical writer Frangois La Rochefoucauld said, "Almost all our faults are more pardonable than the methods we think up to hide them." If you have several reasons why you can't be self-disciplined, realize that they are really just a bunch of excuses— all of which need to be challenged if you want to go to the next level as a leader.

4. Remove Rewards Until the Job Is Done

Author Mike Delaney wisely remarked, "Any business or industry that pays equal rewards to its goof-offs and its eager-beavers sooner or later will find itself with more goof-offs than eager-beavers." If you lack self-discipline, you may be in the habit of having dessert before eating your vegetables.

A story illustrates the power of withholding rewards. An older couple had been at a campground for a couple of days when a family arrived at the site next to them. As soon as their sport-utility vehicle came to a stop, the couple and their three kids piled out. One child hurriedly unloaded ice chests, backpacks, and other items while the other two quickly put up tents. The site was ready in fifteen minutes.

The older couple was amazed. "You folks sure do work great together," the elderly gentleman told the dad admiringly.

"You just need a system," replied the dad. "Nobody goes to the bathroom until camp's set up."

5. Stay Focused on Results

Anytime you concentrate on the difficulty of the work instead of its results or rewards, you're likely to become discouraged. Dwell on it too long, and you'll develop self-pity instead of self-discipline. The next time you're facing a must-do task and you're thinking of doing what's convenient instead of paying the price, change your focus. Count the benefits of doing what's right, and then dive in.

Reflecting   on   It

Author H. Jackson Brown Jr. quipped, "Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There's plenty of movement, but you never know if it's going to be forward, backwards, or sideways." If you know you have talent, and you've seen a lot of motion—but little concrete results—you may lack self-discipline.

Look at last week's schedule. How much of your time did you devote to regular, disciplined activities? Did you do anything to grow and improve yourself professionally? Did you engage in activities promoting good health? Did you dedicate part of your income to savings or investments? If you've been putting off those things, telling yourself that you'll do them later, you may need to work on your self-discipline.

Bringing   It   Home 

To improve your self-discipline, do the following:

Sort out your priorities. Think about which two or three areas of life are most important to you. Write them down, along with the disciplines that you must develop to keep growing and improving in those areas. Develop a plan to make the disciplines a daily or weekly part of your life.

List the reasons. Take the time to write out the benefits of practicing the disciplines you've just listed. Then post the benefits someplace where you will see them daily. On the days when you don't want to follow through, reread your list.

Get rid of excuses. Write down every reason why you might not be able to follow through with your disciplines. Read through them. You need to dismiss them as the excuses they are. Even if a reason seems legitimate, find a solution to overcome it. Don't leave yourself any reasons to quit. Remember, only in the moment of discipline do you have the power to achieve your dreams.

Daily   Take-Away

A nursery in Canada displays this sign on its wall: "The best time to plant a tree is twenty-five years ago …. The second best time is today." Plant the tree of self-discipline in your life today.