Learn to self-regulate in a way that you are composed, confident, and respected among your staff, peers, and clients.
“The best fighter is never angry” — Lao Tzu
“He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.” — Lao Tzu
“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Regardless of title, I lead operations and technical decisions in an IT company. My teams see that I am a motivated and motivating leader with high technical ability that inspires my team and helps lead us to winning most challenges. I am a battlefield leader, and although I have a lot of strategic abilities and experience, my skills as a tactical leader leading the charge as my team faces new business challenges (new clients, new markets, new products, new competition, new technology, new threats) is really who I am. When we are architecting a solution to a problem we face as a team, my team all looks to me to think through it and come up with a response.
In section 5.5.2 of Batool’s Emotional Intelligence and Effective Leadership, the author discusses Self-Regulation as a leadership strategy (Batool, 2013, p.88). In my quest to become a better leader, I have been reading a lot of leadership improvement books, articles, and blog posts, and this theme keeps resonating with me.
Upon self-examination and reflecting upon my failures in leadership and embarrassing times when I handled things poorly, the reason was usually lack of self-control. I said or did something impulsively as a reaction to a situation, a client, or a teammate that I would later regret. I have even fired a key vendor because the salesperson was extremely pushy and manipulative, which caused us issues for the next several months. When I look back at these moments which I regret, the reason is usually lack of self-regulation.
It is not always a huge meltdown. In fact, usually it is a sentence that I say that displays my lack of patience, or an increase in my irritability that is obvious through my tone. It is enough that my team knows that I am not communicating as a leader. My peers and employees know that I am communicating as a leader when I display confidence and discipline in the face of stress and critical situations.
Self-regulation is really discipline: the ability to think before acting (Gourguechon, 2018).
Leaders who self-regulate do not attack others, make rushed emotional decisions, or stereotype (Batool, 2013, p.88).
Leaders who self-regulate and adapt in the face of bad news, stress, or conflict displays composure and confidence to those they lead (Gourguechon, 2018).
So how do I get there from here? What is my strategy to improve my own self-regulation to in those critical, stressful situations to avoid responding poorly? How can I be the leader that my team needs me to be?
One of the tools that I have used successfully is choosing not to respond at all. It absolutely infuriates my staff and stakeholders when I do not respond immediately, but I have learned that if I feel one of those critical, stressful situations, I can choose not to respond at all. I can think about it for a few hours or overnight, then respond in an appropriate way.
“Aren’t you going to respond to that customer, Art? I think you need to call them right now!” is something that I hear at least once a month from my peers. My peers do not realize that the relationship may be in even more jeopardy if I respond right now, and that the best strategy is to wait a bit. Even though some situations feel like they warrant an immediate response, many can wait.
Holding Yourself Accountable
Implementing goals and monitoring, being mindful about knee-jerk responses, emotional outbursts, reacting angrily, and loss of self-control are key steps (Pychyl, 2009).
Having a Peer Accountability Partner
Having a trusted peer helping to monitor may be beneficial, as people often do not recognize what they are doing at the time. I usually do not realize that I made a mistake regarding self-regulation until long after the situation has passed, so a calm, trusted voice of a peer would help correct my path.
Having a Personal ‘Code of Ethics’
Knowing my values is a vital next step. Is there a personal code of ethics that I live by that I can measure my actions and reactions against (Batool, 2013, p.88)? Keeping those values to the forefront can help guide decisions where I would normally react poorly left to my own devices.
Practicing meditation, introspection, and practicing calm with deep breathing exercises are helpful tools toward self-regulation. Journaling feelings and responses rather than expressing those responses in a knee-jerk way is also a helpful strategy (Batool, 2013, p.88).
Taking care of my physical self, getting enough sleep, getting exercise, and eating normally are keys to staying in control (Gouguechon, 2018). I find that when I am exhausted and working on no sleep through stressful incidents, it is far more difficult to stay in control of my emotions, speech, and behavior.
In order to lead effectively without jeopardizing your role, your team, and your relationships, use these strategies in order to get you through those stressful, critical times when it seems natural to freak out:
- Using delay
- Holding yourself accountable
- Finding an accountability peer
- Developing a code of ethics
- Practicing calm
- Staying healthy
Batool, B. F. (2013). Emotional Intelligence and Effective Leadership. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.652.8649&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Gourguechon, Prudy. (2018) A Neglected But Essential Leadership Trait — Why Self-Control Really Matters. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/prudygourguechon/2018/04/03/a-neglected-but-essential-leadership-trait-why-self-control-really-matters/#54a16212787a
Pychyl, Timothy. (2009). Self-regulation Failure (Part 1): Goal Setting and Monitoring. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dont-delay/200902/self-regulation-failure-part-1-goal-setting-and-monitoring
Self Control Quotes. (n.d.) Goodreads. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/self-control
Art Ocain is the President & Chief Operating Officer at MePush, Inc. a managed service provider that serves IT architecture, operations, and cybersecurity needs across all verticals. Art has been in IT for over 20 years and has been a tech in the trenches as well as a manager in web hosting, internet service providers, enterprise IT, as well as services for the SMB market. You can read more on his LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/artocain/