Your Credit Union’s First Step Toward Success: Hiring Self-Disciplined People

Self-discipline is a precursor AND predictor of success. That translates not only to an individual’s success, but a company’s success as well.




Jim Collins (author of Good to Great), Larry Bossidy (author of Execution), and many other leadership experts believe that organization discipline is a key element to organization success.

How does an organization build a culture of “organization discipline?” It starts with hiring employees who are self-disciplined.  If you hire employees who have self-discipline, you will be managing processes not people.  That is a profound concept when thinking about your own leadership style. Which would you rather do?

First, what is self-discipline? Self-discipline is the ability to reject instant gratification in favor of something better. It is giving up of instant pleasure and satisfaction for a higher goal.  It is the ability of the individual to stick to actions, thoughts, and behavior, which lead to improvement and success.

Revealing Self Discipline Studies

An interesting study performed by Walter Mischel at Stanford University tested the effects of self-discipline.  He used a group of children, all aged 4, and gave each child a marshmallow and told them they could eat the treat right away or they could wait a few minutes for their teacher to return and she would give them a second marshmallow if they had not eaten the first one. 

Of course, some of the children ate the treat immediately, and the others waited to eat their marshmallow when the teacher returned.  If they waited, they got rewarded with a second marshmallow.  The researchers followed these children to adulthood, and found by age 18, the children showing the self-discipline to wait for the second marshmallow were more socially adaptable and did better academically: for example, on average, scoring 210 points higher on SAT scores. 

Another study conducted by Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman 1 found that self-discipline matters more than IQ.  When profiling children’s self-discipline as well as IQ, the study found that their self-discipline scores accounted for twice as much of the variation in their academic performance as did their IQ.

In the military, it’s safe to say that discipline is a “lynch pin” to the success of any armed forces mission. International executive search firm Korn Ferry did a study and found that 59 companies in the S&P 500 headed by ex-military CEOs provided an average annual shareholder return of 21.3 percent over the three years (ending September 2005) compared with 11 percent for the entire S&P500 Index.  This underscores again that even in business, discipline is a key predictor of success.

Culture of discipline
Good to Great author Jim Collins says that for a company to go from good to great, they need to have a “culture of discipline.”  “Sustaining great results depend upon building a culture full of self-disciplined people who take disciplined action fanatically consistent with the three circles of the Hedgehog Concept: what are you deeply passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine.”  (Good To Great, Executive Book Summaries, May, 2002.)  In the Hedgehog Concept, leadership is about making decisions – and totally focusing a team of self-disciplined people to accomplish the organization or department’s goals.

Mistakes in creating a culture of discipline:

  • Discipline through bureaucracy:  It is not uncommon for people to mistake bureaucracy for discipline.  Bureaucratic cultures (hierarchical, bureaucratic structures and strictures) are created when there is a lack of employee self-discipline – bureaucracy happens to manage a small number of people who lack self-discipline (and bureaucracy will drive good people away).
  • Discipline through tyranny:  Disciplining the organization through sheer force – by one leader – cannot be sustained if that person leaves.  He or she would not be leaving an “enduring culture of discipline.” 
  • Discipline to “stay the course:” Have the discipline to refrain from wanting to do all the “cool” ideas you hear about at the conferences you attend.  Make lists of things you are NOT going to do because they don’t fit your Hedgehog Concept – rather than the long list of things you want to do.

Tips on creating a culture of discipline and success:

  • Hire self-disciplined people:  These people have common traits – they can be trusted to finish what they start, they have a “habit” of self-discipline, they can face “brutal” facts about themselves, they are willing to adhere to the organization’s systems for getting work done, they have a passion for doing certain types of work or advancing certain purposes, and they possess unique skill sets.2
  • Build a culture around the idea of freedom and responsibility, with a framework:  Build a consistent system with clear constraints, but also give people freedom and responsibility of that system.  Manage the system, not the people.
  • Fill your culture with self-disciplined people who are willing to go to extreme lengths to fulfill their responsibilities:  Hire and retain people who are fanatical in the pursuit of greatness and possess the discipline to do “whatever it takes.”3 

Creating a culture of discipline starts at the top.  The CEO, and executive team, must exemplify the elements of a “culture of discipline” that are outlined in this article.  If they do, and they require the same from all their employees, they will move their organization from Good to Great. It’s the first step toward your credit union’s long-term success.

For more information on creating Hiring Self-Disciplined Employees, please contact Jim Cardwell or Karla Norwood at Cardwell, 800-395-1410.  Visit our Connections Online website:

1 (Positive Psychology Centre, University of Pennsylvania)
2 (A Culture of Discipline – Building Toward Great, by Tom Ambler)
3 (Good To Great, Executive Book Summaries, May, 2002.)