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The Art of Discipline

Apr 02, 2009

Discover how applying the different definitions of “discipline” can help you succeed.

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” —Jim Rohn, motivational speaker

As a business owner for close to 20 years, I’m always entertained when people say to me, “Yeah, I’m going to start my own business. Not having anyone ride my back and tell me what to do all the time is where I want to be.” I smile and shake my head, internally saying, “Yeah, well, good luck with that.”

The reality is that starting your own business means you have to be your own boss. Theoretically, it sounds like paradise, but when push comes to shove and the entire success or failure of your business falls on your shoulders, you had better have a pretty incredible work ethic. You’ll also need the desire to do whatever it takes whenever the occasion calls for it. Bottom line: you need discipline.

When you think of the word discipline, what comes to mind? I found various definitions for it. To my surprise, I found that each one related in some way to business and personal training. For example:

  • a branch of knowledge, as in “Teachers should be well trained in their discipline” or “In what discipline is his doctorate?”
  • a system of rules of conduct or a method of practice, as in “He quickly learned the discipline of prison routine” or “It requires discipline for such a plan to work.”
  • the trait of being well-behaved, as in “He insisted on discipline among the troops.”
  • to develop behavior by instruction and practice, especially to teach self-control, as in “Parents must discipline their children” or “Is this dog disciplined?”
  • to train to improve (e.g., in strength or self-control), as in “He disciplined himself to do more push-ups, because he wanted to increase his upper-body strength” or “Improving my time management skills has kept me disciplined.”
  • to punish in order to gain control or enforce obedience, as in “The teacher disciplined the pupils rather frequently.”

Let’s see how each of these definitions ties in to your business goals as you strive to grow personally and professionally.

Branch of Knowledge

I have never taken a business course in my life, yet I was a featured speaker at the Kellogg School of Business—Master’s Program. I have never taken an accounting class, yet every year I set my budget, review my P & Ls (Profit and Loss) on a weekly basis and continue to run a successful business. I have never taken a marketing class, yet I help many start-up companies lay out their marketing strategies.

Therefore, what is my branch of knowledge, or better stated for business ownership, what branch of knowledge do I need? I believe in combining a sound education with hands-on experience. In other words, while sound education sets the stage, the discipline of watching and working side by side with other fitness professionals provides an invaluable education.

My education started when I was 18 years old. I worked at a small gym and loved the customers. My boss was a big Zig Ziglar fan and often shared his motivational tapes with us. This introduction to Zig Ziglar triggered my interest in motivational techniques. I loved working with members at the club and dedicated myself to their success. In fact, people often said the only reason they stayed at the club was because of me.

During one of my performance reviews, I received a pat on the back for my great sales. I was the highest-grossing salesperson at the club. Yet, I was told that if I continued to mix with the members, I would be dismissed. Needless to say, I continued to “mix” (my retention numbers were great) and consequently was dismissed.

That experience taught me that customer service would one day be a crucial piece of my business. The members asked for me because I cared. I learned an important business lesson: people want to be cared for. I also discovered that you need to motivate both staff and members.

At the end of the day, then, what is my branch of knowledge? My discipline is the school of hard knocks, with an emphasis in observation and listening. Whether you’re a student in school or a student of life, these two disciplines will carry you far.

Rules of Conduct

Every business needs a system of rules of conduct in order to create a consistent environment. Running a business without a clear description of rules and expectations is a recipe for disaster. Part of operating a thriving company is developing an employee manual. Whether your facility is 500 or 100,000 square feet, a manual will serve as your business blueprint, keeping your day-to-day dealings on track and your foundation strong. The manual should cover all topics, from A–Z.

When I work with studios to help them solve problems, we often find that the weak link is setting expectations without explanation. In other words, managers tell staff what they want, yet give them no “tools” to help them perform. Without proper tools—such as a manual—your staff will never live up to your expectations. Why? Simply because you have failed to provide a tangible guide.

Being Well-Behaved

For an entrepreneur, there is no doubt that being well-behaved goes a long way in creating a solid, professional image for your business. “Well-behaved” may sound corny, but let’s rephrase the term and view well-behaved as synonymous with being a positive role model.

I think we can all agree that just when the perception of personal trainers or anyone in the fitness industry starts to improve, some product or self-proclaimed fitness “expert” invariably comes along and undermines the work that we professionals do to raise the bar. Whatever the new “gimmick” or “gadget” is, it challenges our integrity and our values. However, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide how you want to project the image of a fitness professional. If you’re dedicated to providing solid role models, then it is your responsibility to promote yourself and your staff as just that—true professionals who focus on delivering top-notch service.

Instruction and Practice

Develop behavior by instruction and practice. This is all about continuing education. In my professional opinion, attending conferences and continuing education classes and networking while you’re there is the best way to stay on top of your game.

Some trainers will tell me they’re on a limited budget and that conferences can be expensive. Here’s my response: “Your biggest asset is your knowledge base. If you’re not constantly feeding it, you’ll lose your edge. You have to spend money to make money, and there is no better place to spend money than on continuing education.”

Training to Improve

Whether you own your own business, are in a managerial role or are a trainer working up the ladder, discipline is about training to improve. In essence, you want to keep striving to be better as a business, as a professional and as an individual.

Training to improve is vital to the success of any business. Every year, prior to one-on-one meetings that I have with my staff, I give them two questionnaires to fill out regarding my performance. Just as I expect my trainers to take criticism and grow from it, so must I do the same. (Note: These meetings are not tied to compensation.)

I have to show my dedication to self-improvement, and the best way I can do that is to allow my staff to evaluate me with honesty and clarity. The feedback I get from them can be humbling while being extremely valuable. I believe that if you can’t take it, you had better not dish it out. There’s no better way to find out the areas that need improvement than through the people you work with every day. n

IDEA Trainer Success, Volume 6, Issue 2

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