Growing up, my childhood baseball hero was Pete Rose. In addition to his amazing ability to consistently hit solid base hits, I was particularly mesmerized by his all-out style of play. No matter what he was doing, swinging the bat, guarding the plate, or stealing a base, Pete Rose played to win. He gave 100 percent of his effort to every game, wowed millions of adoring fans along the way, and earned the nickname, “Charlie Hustle.”
Then, just like that, everything changed.
When the story broke that Rose committed the unpardonable sin in baseball—betting on games his team played—the sports world was stunned. Rose, who was on track to be the all-time hit king, suddenly left fans questioning his motives and distrusting his intentions. In the blink of an eye, my hero became a zero.
In his autobiography called My Prison Without Walls, Rose shares, “I was aware of my records and my place in baseball history. But I was never aware of boundaries or able to control that part of my life. Admitting that I was out of control has been next to impossible for me…how could I be so disciplined in one part of my life—and so reckless in another?”
I have to admit the very public fall of one-time superstar Pete Rose still saddens me. After all, no one wants to see someone so talented fall from grace. But for all the disappointment associated with this unfortunate truth, a very important lesson emerges we would all be wise to heed. Namely, it can be hard to exercise self-control in an out-of-control world.
Admittedly, self-control, otherwise known as temperance, is not popular in today’s culture. I would offer it has become counter-cultural. In fact, much of our society appears to prefer pursuing self-gratification over exercising self-discipline. It’s never been easier to become so self-absorbed that we lose sight of what really matters.
It is virtually impossible today to pick up any magazine or newspaper, turn on any television, or tune into any radio without someone trying to convince us we should strive for more. We are awash in a culture where it is easy to succumb to the never ending barrage of slick advertising campaigns and compelling commercials that seek to persuade us to never truly be satisfied with who we are, what we have or what we are doing. In this kind of culture, practicing temperance, the ability to look outside ourselves in a way that balances a healthy self-denial with a deep seated commitment to live up to a particular standard, isn’t easy.
But I’m here to tell you, it is very necessary.
Be it as simple as staying true to a diet, refusing to succumb to peer pressure or refraining from lashing out at someone who has hurt us deeply, temperance prevents us from going down the same path as one time baseball great Pete Rose and caving in to irrationality and poor judgment.
This is an important point to discern. After all, as leaders in our homes, workplaces, worship spaces, and communities, we want to make a difference. We want our leadership to be felt. And that’s okay. However, challenges arise when pressures to perform lead us to make decisions that are more about ourselves than they are about the best interests of our organizations; our families; our customers; or our constituents. When we allow our undisciplined egos, unchecked ambitions or unrealistic expectations to get the better of us, watch out. We’ve set ourselves on a path that all but guarantees we will fall far short of our potential.
Several years ago, management gurus Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen set out to study how successful leaders routinely positioned themselves and their companies for success in turbulent times. They looked at more than twenty thousand companies and poured over countless reams of data to ascertain why some organizations thrived in uncertainty and others did not. At the end of their exhaustive analysis, they concluded, “[Successful leaders] are not more creative. They’re not more visionary. They’re not more charismatic. They’re not more ambitious. They’re not more heroic. And they’re not more prone to making big, bold moves.”
So what was it they discovered that truly set great leaders apart from the rest?
It came down to one primary characteristic. Temperance. Namely, “They all led their teams with a surprising method of self-control in an out-of-control world.” In other words, the most effective leaders made self-discipline a priority, not an afterthought.
Ask yourself, “What areas in my life require more self-discipline?” Challenge yourself to identify several areas where temperance is not your strong suit. It could be in your diet, your relationships, your exercise routine, how you spend your leisure time, or how you treat your spouse, children or coworkers. If you want to be the leader you are capable of being, resolve today to take tangible steps to build greater self-control into your life.
Remember, practicing temperance is choosing to make a decision today to live better than you did yesterday. It’s developing discipline from the inside out. It’s making the commitment to practice self-control in life’s everyday moments so you don’t find yourself one day making reckless bets that undermine your example, dilute your effectiveness and destroy your legacy.
As the sad story of one-time baseball icon and childhood hero Pete Rose affirms, without temperance, you’ll eventually stop liking who you are. Don’t gamble with your influence. Commit to being a role model worth following.