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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dering Mock

The Power in Self-Control

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Very often when I ask people what they have appreciated in effective leaders they have known, the attribute of "steadiness" is mentioned. This entails regulating one's emotions, resisting impulsive behaviors and retaining presence of mind. At the core, it is self-control.


Why does this equilibrium or grace under pressure leave such a lasting impression? Why is there such power in self-control?


  1. It contains and calms. As Rudyard Kipling observed, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs......". Steadiness in the face of drama or chaos is contagious. Leaders who demonstrate equanimity and equilibrium are not only modeling important behaviors, but also having a settling influence, diffusing the negative impulses and reactions of others.

2. It creates an environment more conducive to clear communication and

decision-making. Without the drama of heightened emotions and uncontrolled reactions, people communicate more clearly and make better reasoned decisions.

If the leader is composed, the followers are likelier to regain their composure and

contribute to clear communication and better decisions.


3. It contributes to a sense of confidence in others. After all, if in the middle of a

crisis, the leader is not knocked off balance, but retains equilibrium and has

presence of mind, the implicit message is that whatever is happening can be dealt

with and resolved.


So, how do leaders develop this ability to regulate their emotions and thoughts? How do leaders develop grace under pressure?


  1. Self-Awareness A key first step is being aware of your own reactions during challenging times. Increased adrenaline levels can intensify physical and emotional reactions. Be aware of your own responses. This can be learned.

2. Manage your Thoughts Another key step is to take a deep breath and gather your

thoughts. Do you have complete facts of the situation? Separate the "vital few" from

"insignificant many," mentally sorting and prioritizing next questions and steps.


3. Manage Your Emotions Resist the temptation to react with anger, blame, or

hostility. Remind yourself of the role of the leader in being a settling influence,

especially in difficult situations. This does not mean being devoid of emotions or

without feeling; it does mean regulating your own emotions in order to create an

environment for communication, decision-making and confidence.


4. Manage Your Voice and Words If the goal is to set a climate of composure,

leaders need to manage the tone and volume of their voice. Shouting (unless

absolutely necessary to be heard) does more harm than good. And, this is is the true

test of steadiness: the choice of words in the height of drama. Leaders can train

themselves to take a deep breath and think before speaking. Resist the temptation

blurt the first thing that comes into your head. In fact, it is probably the third thing

that may be most helpful and least harmful. Take your time.


In a world of chaos, change and workplace drama (real on contrived), the importance

of equanimity, equilibrium and self-control for leaders has never been greater. Leaders

are challenged to acknowledge the influence their own steadiness has on followers and

to continually assess and develop their ability to regulate their impulses and manage

their thoughts and words. And, in doing so, discover the power of self-control.


Discussion/Reflection Questions:


  1. Why do you think "steadiness" is such a memorable leadership characteristic? Have you experienced this equilibrium and grace under pressure in a leader?

  2. In your opinion, is equanimity a character trait, or is it something that can be learned and practiced? Is it possible to train yourself to manage your emotions, voice and words?

  3. Do you agree that the importance of self-control for leaders has never been greater? Why?

  4. What are the implications for leaders? For you?

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