Goodness, Discipline, Knowledge

30 years.  That’s the number of years since I graduated from St. Thomas High School in Houston.  Such milestones often make us stop, take stock of ourselves, and ponder our past.  That’s not something I naturally nor normally do but for this anniversary, I thought it worthwhile.

I realized it centered on one lesson.  “Teach me goodness, discipline, and knowledge.” (Psalm 119:66)  That was the motto of my high school.  The Basilian Fathers instilled this in us from our first day through our last day.  They created a total educational environment that ensured we matured into men who put goodness first, discipline second, and knowledge third.

I quickly realized that not only has this guided me for three decades, but it can guide leaders of any organization!

While in school, we repeatedly were challenged on our goodness, discipline, and knowledge.  The entire faculty, curriculum, and experience focused on this simple, yet powerful, message.

Goodness is first.  You must always strive to lead a life centered on good judgment, wisdom, and principles.  These principles guide you in making decisions of all kinds.  Ultimately, goodness is the ultimate characteristic of a humble person.

Discipline is second.  As a student, this was defined as having strong character and maintaining self-control in your life—with everyone and in all situations.  A disciplined person is able then to teach others by inspiring and modeling appropriate behaviors.

Knowledge is last.  While knowledge is necessary it cannot and must not be the primary source of your identity.  It should not define a person.  Rather, it encourages you to constantly learn and grow—to be open to new experiences and challenges.

Collectively, this motto helps transform selfishness and pride towards charity and unity.  In living for ourselves, we live for others (and vice versa).

In March, I visited my old school.  It had been some 20 years since I’d been on campus.  I also spent some time with three of the priests who taught me.  In both the tour of the campus and in talking with them, it became very clear to me that they continue to live a life of goodness, discipline, and knowledge and impart this on all who attend the school.  They’ve been doing so for 109 years and I expect they’ll do so for generations to come.

And so what are the lessons for leaders? 

  1. Center yourself and your organization on goodness first, discipline second, and knowledge third.  Can you only imagine if those on Wall Street, in public service, or working as CEO followed such a mantra?  I believe, rather, they rely on knowledge and good returns—leaving discipline on the side of the road.

  2. Plan for the future.  Build an organization that values longevity of ideas, concepts, and behaviors to support these.  In doing so, you’ll ensure the organization thrives for generations. 

If leaders could only adopt this simple motto, imagine the powerful memories they could create for their organization.  Some 30 years later, I continue to rely on this simple message.  Now, if they could only find a solution for the gray hair that comes with age…