#96 Discipline

First, I'd like to start by thanking everyone who took the time to respond to my question on Facebook regarding how, why, and when they read the blog. You have provided me some much needed insight into how to improve my writing. I'm grateful to everyone, and as always, look forward to your feedback on the topic of the week, or simply on the blog in general. One reader stated that my writing is very dense, with too many ideas and too many words. It was also suggested that each entry is too long and not open-ended enough to invite your feedback. Both comments are very true, but for those who know me, this isn't really a surprise. I write the way I speak and think. And most folks will tell you that I spend too much time speaking when I should probably just shut the hell up! I have certainly never been accused of being too quiet, or succinct with my thoughts. Something about beating a dead horse...! Anyway, I do appreciate all the comments and suggestions. Hopefully they will help make the blog a better product for everyone. Thanks again.

Today's Post:

What is discipline?

According to Dictionary.com, the noun discipline can mean many things, among them:

"Training to act in accordance with rules"

"Punishment inflicted by way of correction and training"

When used as a verb, it can mean:

"To train by instruction and exercise; drill"

"To bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control"

There is a lot of talk these days about discipline both the noun and the verb. You will hear people say things like, "Children these days have no discipline", or "I wish they would discipline their kid more. He/she is a little brat." etc etc.

We are also hearing that throughout the Army. That this generation of Soldiers has no discipline. They are too self-absorbed and demand instant gratification, and do not respect authority etc. There was a whole conversation on AKO about this last week that rapidly became one of the most widely read and hotly argued posts I've seen there in quite some time. One camp lamenting the lack of discipline and the other accepting that there must be a recognition among leaders regarding how this particular generation responds to authority, rules, and structure. That we might need a modification of how we apply discipline in order to achieve the Army's goals and needs. This conversation is one that has been around for as long as we have had armies patrolling the earth. Every generation thinks that they have it right and those that follow them are not up to their exacting standards and understanding of what being disciplined means.

What I find interesting is that much like everything else with regard to leading others, the idea of what discipline is, and how it is applied, is very personal to that particular leader. This is an important consideration. Shouldn't each of us spend some time thinking about our personal definition of discipline in order that we can then explain and impart it to our subordinates? If we do that, if we take the time to determine what discipline means to us personally, and then explain that meaning to others, won't it help them understand what we expect of them more completely? It seems to me that if we don't take that time, then in most people's minds discipline will continue to only equate to punishment. There won't be a recognition of the need to internalize restraint, self-control, or to act in accordance with a proscribed standard, but rather that "I will be punished if I don't act this way." Fear-based discipline is the lowest form of the word that exists and only lasts as long as the subordinate is afraid of the power or consequence of the leader. Once that physical fear or fear of consequence has been removed, or causes the subordinate not to care anymore, then truthfully, the leader has surrendered all their authority. If I don't care about the consequences of your actions, then you really have no sway over me. Once I remove your ability to threaten or coerce or force or intimidate me in order to control me, you will be left with very few options that will influence me. A leader who works on fear and intimidation will rapidly find him or herself having to constantly up-the-ante with each successive punishment until the level of punishment well outweighs the original intent. Fear induced discipline is a zero sum game. And yet it is one that is practiced all to often - especially in the military.

I started thinking about this a lot this week based on something I read on the AKO website. The Army published an updated regulation 350-6 "Enlisted Initial Entry and Training Policies" on November 18th. Those with an AKO account can find the link here:


As I was scrolling through it, I came across the following sentence that really caught my eye: "Treat all Soldiers in accordance with Schofield’s definition of discipline." For those who are not familiar with Schofield's definition, I have included it here:

"The discipline that makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instructions and to give commands in such manner and such a tone of voice to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself, while one who feels, and hence manifests disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred toward himself."

- MG John M. Schofield, in an address to the Corps of Cadets, 11 August 1879

What struck me was that 350-6 is the regulation that guides the Drill Sergeant as they train new Soldiers. Consider Schofield's first line "...not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment." How opposite that is from what most of us will recall from our basic training experience! Most folks remember their Drill Sergeant because they were desperately afraid of him/her and the seemingly unending ways that they could inflict pain and confusion on their lives. Fear of the Drill Sergeant became the prime motivation for completing the task the first time. I was more afraid of him than I was of failing the task. I don't remember much of how the task was accomplished, or what I learned, but I damn sure remember thinking, "Man, I'm glad I'm not that guy!" when some other poor Soldier failed to meet the often unmeetable standard and was learning new definitions of the word discipline, which normally involved ever increasing levels of physical pain. Joining the Army was akin to being 'jumped' into a gang. There was a certain level of abuse that had to be endured before one could gain acceptance. This new regulation seems to stand in direct refutation of that method on indoctrination. Very clearly, the intent is not to imbue the Soldier with fear-based discipline, but rather to gain their willful acceptance of the requirements of soldiering. Two vastly different approaches. Although I doubt that it has dramatically changed the methods most Drill Sergeants currently use, over time it may be considered a true paradigm shift in how we move an individual from civilian to Soldier. The humble beginning of the next method of enhancing the profession.

All of the good leaders who have mentored me have been very familiar with Schofield. Their manner, the way the carried themselves, their patience, the almost eerie way they knew when I was going to fail before I did...All these things gave them an aura of patient understanding and unwavering focus on what needed to be done. I came to not want to fail them, not out of fear of punishment, but because of my admiration for them. Those are the people who have gained my utmost respect. Those people are the ones who became my role models. They are the ones I have tried to model my own leadership after.

So the question remains. What is your definition of discipline? For me, it involves the following:

1. Dedication to those whom I lead.

2. The awareness that I represent the face of the Army to those who are not part of it. My actions determine their interpretation.

3. The accomplishment of the mission or the recognition that the mission cannot be accomplished with the tools at hand.

4. The moral courage and empathy to understand and account for those who cannot do so for themselves.

I do not lead by fear. I didn't like it when I was a younger Soldier, and I do not like it now. My leadership style and the implantation of discipline in my subordinates is much more task focused. The levels of perseverance, dedication, and ability to adapt come from the problem at hand, not whether someone will get in trouble. All leaders should probably spend some time with this idea because how you define discipline and how you demonstrate it to others can be critical to the success or failure of the mission. Are they accomplishing the mission because they fear your repercussions, or are the accomplishing the mission because of willful obedience to the ethic of serving others?

Something to think about....As always, your thoughts and comments are more than welcome.


  1. way back in the day when I was at Ft Bragg I used this definition which I picked up somewhere
    Discipline is:
    Doing what should be done,
    When it should be done,
    Doing it that best it can be done,
    and doing it that way every time.


  2. Prior to anything Jeff, thank you for sharing your thoughts result of experience, in this forum; and give us the opportunity to discern on that point of view.

    I read with attention the writing, and I shall explain my point of view, from my position as facilitator of the process of human development, which is my area of expertise, since in the end all that we're behind any profession or activity which we develop, we first human.

    All human beings, moves us to act in such a way the values we certainly take on the role or environment in which we develop. The values are guides that give specific guidance to conduct and the life of each individual and each social group.

    Obedience and discipline, are two values that can be found in humans. However, although seem the same, actually have different meaning; However, always must be applied together for the success of each of them.

    According to dictionary.
    • The will of the person who sends, which establishes a standard or ordering the law compliance
    • Obey is to accept and fulfill the will of another person which is above us in a particular situation.
    • Rule set to maintain order and the subordination between the members of a body.
    • Capacity Act ordered and perseverance to achieve a good

    This obedience is responsible for collaboration and participation. Obey action is one which follow rules, orders, rules and behaviors.

    Obedience is not determined by affection (love or fear) that you may have towards the person who authorizes, sends or requests, focuses on the task or fulfill the task entrusted to you.

    Obedience is part of learning the control and regulation of the conduct of the assimilation of the rules in the external, doing things asking you to make plane, the first and then; learning to control behavior and conform to the rules in a conscious manner. Learning obedience brings timely explain the why you need to do things that prompted.

    Value discipline is to submit our will and action to the fulfillment of an end. The ability to concentrate our personal qualities consistently on concrete objectives materialized a life with defined, delimited and consistent boundaries that allow ordered social coexistence.

    The practice of physical and mental discipline directs our attention and skills about the task undertaken, one and again, as often as necessary, to overcome the stimuli which distract us interest we have defined. Thinking firm and sustained, disciplined, allows to experience serenity, which provides health and gives us the conviction to achieve our ambitions.

    Based on this, I think that the obedience to an order, instruction, request or request given to someone by another person with the corresponding clarification of the because; It would not have the expected effects, but the value of the discipline applies accordingly in order to meet the objective put forward in time and form.

    Vertical, hierarchical organization of the militia, contemplates the role of an active Trilogy: command, order and obedience (called discipline).

    Well then, obedience is subordinate to a mandate.

    Who stop command, you must have a broad sense of responsibility, security results and clear content which broadcasts to the subaltern, recipient of the order, interpret faithfully its purpose which motivates running order and the intention of the superior.

    A hierarchy in which I do not imagine your organization every day; without carrying out aware of the practice of obedience and discipline values exercise jointly, with the aim of achieving the objectives set.

    It can obey and does not exert any discipline.

    But not conceive discipline without obedience.
    Because to meet objectives will always subordinate to an external or internal to the individual request.

    Have a great week.

    Well take care and God accompanies your way.

    Sandra García Garfias

  3. Love the trilogy and the important consideration of obedience. It is a crucial word that is interestingly missing from much of the discussion about leadership and command. Great to see it being brought into the fold. As a leader I expect, assume and demand obedience. Disobediences often stems from subordinates failing to appreciate either my intent, the ramifications of their choices or not fearing the consequences. Fear is a great motivator that can overcome other powerful influences. A soldier with his senses numbed by over indulgence in liquor and tempted to pursue a course of action that could be dangerous, destructive or simply illegal can be kept from a foolish actions by a healthy dose of fearing my reaction and the consequences that would follow. Fear of failure is a superb motivator in men. Dr Leonard Sax in his book 'Boys' Adrift' studies the phenomena of apathetic disobedient boys lacking motivation at school and college. It is a study that offers powerful insights into some major influences on the men joining the military today.

  4. Adrian -

    There are parts of your response that trouble me and, think, provide most of the problems with command. You stated: "As a leader, I expect, assume, and demand obedience." Now you are creating a personal dynamic, rather than a positional one, and the trouble is that as each new person fills the leadership seat, the demand effect changes. I do not demand obedience, the position I hold does. My goal should be to gain willful obedience from my subordinates such that given the task, its' purpose, and my intent, they complete it out of understanding and respect.

    Secondly, I do not believe that any form of fear based leadership is ultimately effective. Once a Soldier has faced a more fear-inducing event than the leader can administratively or physically induce, then the leadership breaks down. Fear based leadership only works when the subordinate is more worried about the capability of the leader to inflict more pain or punishment than the current situation they are facing.

    Obedience is an important part of the leadership / discipline / mission accomplishment trilogy, however, that obedience should be derived from a common understanding of the need for the mission, and respect for the structure of the organization.