Self Discipline: The Missing Link to Great Leadership

Nolan Ryan

Image by cliff1066™ via Flickr

The legendary Nolan Ryan takes the mound for the home team Texas Rangers.  It’s another hot night at Arlington Stadium.  Tom House, the Ranger’s pitching coach has concerns because the 44 year-old Ryan did not have good stuff while warming up before the game.  He even questions if Ryan’s career is over and warns Bobby Valentine, the Ranger’s Manager not to expect much from Ryan tonight.  Nolan enters the dugout just before the game is to start and says, “Boys….” and the dugout goes quiet because Nolan was speaking.

“Boys, just get one {run} tonight.  That’s all I am going to need.”  Before you know it, he gets ten Toronto hitters out in order.  He strikes out 10, then 12, then 14 Blue Jay’s.  Now it’s the 9th inning with two outs.  Nolan Ryan is facing the strong hitting Second Baseman Roberto Alamar leading 3-0.  He has already struck out 15 Toronto batters.  He is working on a record 7th no-hitter.  Nolan Ryan becomes the oldest pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball to throw a no-hitter when he strikes out the Blue Jay’s Alamar.

How does a 44-year-old man overcome his age, bad knees and a bad shoulder to throw a no-hitter against one of the best teams in the American League?  How does Ryan overcome such a terrible warm up session and pitch so well starting with the first Blue Jay batter?  How does this Hall of Fame pitcher seem to get better with age while his peers are only watching the game?  Nolan Ryan is legendary for many things throughout his career.  Not the least of which is his self-discipline.  He was very disciplined in his practice, his fitness routine, his weight lifting and his diet.  This enabled him to be an effective pitcher at an age well past the retirement age of other power pitchers.

Close-up photograph of Nolan Ryan from 1983

Image via Wikipedia

Self-discipline makes the difference for business leaders as well.  Leaders who do not have the self-discipline to lead-by-example lose credibility.  Leaders who do not have the self-discipline to go the extra mile settle for superficial solutions instead of addressing root causes. Leaders who do not have the self-discipline to develop new skills do not grow in their ability to lead.

Do you have the self-discipline to be great?  If not, take steps to improve your self-discipline.  Look to areas where you are passionate enough to make improvements.  Set small goals for yourself that require discipline and achieve those goals.  Challenge yourself to be a good example for others to follow.  Don’t let a lack of will stand between you and greatness.  Develop the discipline to be great.


The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.  ~Vince Lombardi

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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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9 Responses to Self Discipline: The Missing Link to Great Leadership

  1. Al Diaz says:

    great post. Nolan Ryan is an icon and like you say so aptly a supreme example of self discipline. I also loved the Vince Lombardi quote but then what is there not to like about the man. He exudes confidence in every word he ever uttered. I also feel again like you state that a lot of us think we have to do “big things” to be heard but sometimes it is the day in and day out constancy of our small actions that all add up and provide great role models for our team. thanks for the fantastic post. Regards, Al

    • Al,

      Thank you for your comments and insight. Many of the truly great leaders are only recognized by those closest to them because they are doing the little things well. They can have lasting influence though by shaping those who follow them. Think of the testimonials you hear about young men’s fathers and of leaders who talk about mentors they had while young. Many of them are unsung heros. Thanks again.


  2. Rob Berman says:

    As a baseball fan I enjoyed the Nolan Ryan story. Growing up we had Steve Carlton on the Phillies who was fanatical about his preparation. I liked the way you used Ryan to convey your points.


    • Rob,

      Steve Carlton was in my book even better than Ryan. I know that I feared him coming to Chicago more than Ryan’s Astros anytime. As I recall, he won nearly half of the Phillies victories the year he won 27 games. Carlton was a great model of discipline as well. Thanks for sharing your comments.


  3. Mari-Lyn says:

    Hi Chris,
    I loved your story of a baseball player and wrote the article about self-discipline. It’s in your stories that I can get inspired. Thank you for sharing them.


    • Hi Mary-Lyn,

      Thanks for your encouraging comments. Dale Carnegie teaches story telling to convey your points when public speaking. This has helped my public speaking. I am also learning that applying what he called the magic formula to blogging is capturing the reader’s attention as well. Thanks again.


  4. An inspiring story. Self discipline and determination is important for success. It is interesting that no one believed he could do it. I think that is a mistake we often make in business and life. We do what people expect and often fail because everyone expects us to fail. Nolan was expected to fail but he didnt listen to what people expected of him. He keep his focus.

  5. Susan Oakes says:

    Even though I do not know about this baseball player I can relate to what you have written. As Julia said he kept his focus and I have worked with leaders who get so eaily distracted that the team effort and results are lost. One area I learnt about discipline was when I did ballet growing up

    I am learning about American sports so thank you.

  6. To take it from sports to the arts, as mentioned by Susan, the arts are a fantastic way to learn discipline and the importance of team work. Would that we all could recognize this and support the arts in our schools and our homes too.

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