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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Five Steps to Cross the Discipline Bridge

Lee Jackson is a staff member at a high school in Bogart, GA who is teaching Habitudes to students. He just led a discussion on “Discipline Bridge” on Friday with a group of boys.  During his conversation, they talked about General David Petraeus’ moral oversight as a perfect example of our problem with discipline.


Check out just some of David Petraeus’ highlights from his career:

  • Graduated in 1974 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., as a second lieutenant committed to a career in the infantry.
  • Earned masters and doctorate degrees from Princeton in the 1980s and taught international relations at West Point.
  • Rose through the Army ranks in a series of assignments, including executive assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and stints in Haiti and Bosnia.
  • Led the 101st Airborne Division across the Iraqi desert as the 2003 war began, was promoted to three-star general and put in charge of training the new Iraqi army.
  • Assigned to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after his Iraq tour to oversee leadership training, wrote a manual on how to fight a counterinsurgency campaign.
  • Tapped to head U.S. forces in Iraq in 2007 and is widely credited with saving the country from civil war by orchestrating a surge in U.S. troops.
  • Appointed commander of U.S. Central Command in 2008, overseeing all U.S. military operations in the greater Middle East, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Underwent successful treatment for prostate cancer in 2009 and a year later became the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
  • Retired from the military in 2011 and appointed as CIA director.

What’s more, David is an avid runner and Ironman competitor. It’s almost as though he was a perfect specimen of an army soldier. But, with just one small flaw; one that I struggle with as well. He compartmentalized his discipline. We all tend to do this. We become disciplined in certain areas of our life—such as exercise or diet—but fail to make it holistic. We master one area but don’t let it permeate our lives. Like Pete Rose, who was extremely disciplined on the baseball field, but undisciplined when it came to gambling. We live in compartments. I know. I tend to do it too.

So—what do you say we make a fresh start? Let’s build discipline into one area, then allow it to contagiously affect all other areas. Try this sequence:

  1. Identify one new habit you want to build into your life.
  2. Translate that new habit to specific actions you’ll take each week.
  3. Attach the new habit to one you already have in place. (ie. Reading the paper)
  4. Commit to do it for twenty one days…until you’ve made it a lifestyle.
  5. Now—let that new discipline dictate how you’ll attack your “lazy” categories.

Any other ides you would add to help cross the discipline bridge?


  1. Brian @ Luke1428 on December 12, 2012 at 9:38 am

    I was just talking with a student the other day about this very thing; incredibly disciplined in athletics, not so much in speech and classroom conduct.

    I think it is easier to train ourselves to be disciplined in areas of our life for which we have a passion. I also have found that setting goals focuses my discipline and makes it more intense.

    • Tim Elmore on December 17, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Brian. Our passions are easier to put extra time into. Goal setting can help us focus on what’s important, not just on what we naturally like to do.

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Five Steps to Cross the Discipline Bridge