The "Six Mistakes of Man"

“All great leaders have understood that their number one responsibility is cultivating their own discipline and personal growth.”
John Maxwell

Even though Maxwell is right, most people don’t get it. They think “discipline” and “personal growth” are for other people… that great leaders don’t need to engage in such things. After all, they’re “natural born” leaders.

But they’re mistaken. Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher, pointed that out some 2000 years ago when he listed the 6 mistakes of man. The 6 biggest mistakes were:

1. The delusion that personal gain is made by crushing others.

2. The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.

3. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.

4. Refusing to set aside trivial preferences.

5. Neglecting the development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying.

6. Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.

Point 5 really got my attention. I just came back from a month-long, study-play-work trip to the ancient civilizations of Rome and Athens, and I suspect one of the reasons they led the world at that time was their dedication to learning.

They practiced what John Maxwell preaches today. Maxwell says, “Those who cannot lead themselves cannot lead others.” And your leadership effectiveness starts with your personal “discipline.”

But take a look at your overall sense of discipline… right now… by asking yourself these questions.


Hopefully yes. Great leaders are never satisfied with “getting by” or “squeaking through.” As Debbi Field, the founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies, would say, great leaders know that “good enough never is.”


At the same time great leaders refuse to merely “get by,” they also resist the opposite end of the spectrum. They don’t waste their time striving for perfection.

Psychiatrist David D. Burns discussed that in his book, “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.” When he tested a major insurance company’s top 69 sales people years ago, he found that those who had perfectionistic tendencies earned significantly less than those who did not have those tendencies.

Apparently, the perfectionists lose some of their discipline when they make a mistake or have a failure. But effective leaders learn from their failures so they can do better next time.


It’s an important part of discipline… because you will have setbacks. It’s not a matter “if” but “when.”

The great comedian Bob Hope demonstrated that throughout his entire life and career. He grew up in poverty… but that did not kill off his discipline. He said, “Four of us slept in one bed. When it got cold, mother threw on another brother.” When he was asked about his humble house, Hope talked about his six brothers. He said, “That’s how I learned to dance. Waiting for the bathroom.”

Of course, Bob Hope was not an “overnight success.” He had to work for it, but he was able to keep on working for it because he could joke about it. He said, concerning his early failures, “I would not have had anything to eat if it wasn’t for the stuff the audience threw at me.” And even though he led our nation and our troops through the toughest of times, he never won an Oscar for his movies. But as he quipped one night, “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as it’s called in my home, ‘Passover’.”

So I ask you, “Are you able to apply humor to your setbacks?” I hope so. It will keep your leadership discipline intact.

And finally,


Effective leaders are humble. They admit they don’t know it all. And they don’t pretend to know it all. As one leader told me, “It’s what you learn, after you think you know it all, that counts.”

You see… effective leaders know it’s easier to keep up than catch up. So they’re in the continual learning mode. They know school is never out.

But their learning goes far beyond formal schooling. Effective leaders know, according to author Jim Rohn, that “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”

And a part of that self-education comes from constructive risk-taking. Effective leaders carefully consider how they would adjust… or how they would salvage a situation… if, in fact, they did fail. As one business executive said, “I imagine the worst that could happen if I tried my new plan, and then ask myself what I would do. Could I live with it? Frequently, I can. If not, I don’t take the chance.”

The fact is… you’re either leading or your following. You’re either living your life or someone else’s.

And most people want to be living their own life. To do that, to lead yourself… AND THEN possibly others… it starts with discipline. I’ve outlined 4 discipline questions you need to be asking yourself. How satisfied are you with your answers?

Action:  If you’re committed to continual learning, there should be some evidence of that in your life. What is your evidence? How many books do you read each month? How many seminars do you attend each year? And how many educational – motivational recordings do you listen to every week?