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Self Control – A Crucial Skill For Good Leadership

If we weren’t meant to eat a whole packet of Oreos in one sitting, they’d put 1 or 2 in there instead of 45.

In all seriousness, self-control isn’t something a human being is born with – it’s all a learnt behaviour. This is great news for those aspiring for leadership roles, as maintaining a level head during stressful situations is a character trait that can be strengthened – just like any muscle.

It’s time to put that half-eaten bag of Oreos back in the kitchen cupboard…

In today’s blog, we’re discussing the importance of a COO in the modern company.

Where Does It Come From?

Self-regulation is something babies begin to learn as soon as they escape from the womb. Those of us who’ve had children will know that when they were wee little ones, going over and picking them up at the slightest sign of a cranky gurgle or a cry only led to a more unsettled baby.

Researchers at Duke University in New Zealand ran a 45-year study on self-control across a range of children with varying socioeconomic backgrounds and IQs in relation to how it affected them in later life – things like drug dependence, financial problems, crime, that sort of thing.

Self-control is the ability to contain and separate one’s own thoughts and feelings, to ignore certain impulsive behaviours in order to execute a plan to achieve a goal. Going back to our example, stopping after 1 or 2 Oreos so you don’t end up with a bad relationship with food and the myriad of diseases that come with being overweight.

The study was pretty clear cut – the children who exhibited more self-control had healthier bodies and brains compared to their compulsive peers, and were biologically younger at 45.

Overall, they were better equipped to deal with the financial and social pressures of adult life, and were more optimistic about the inevitabilities and problems that come with the aging process. This analysis was fairly constant regardless of intelligence or class background.

How It Relates:

This research is huge – it has to make you take notice and understand just how important self-control is to not only your personal life, but how successful you are in the work place. It’s one of the most important skills a leader can ever learn, because let’s face it – nothing erodes trust and the team environment faster than a leader who goes to pieces when the going gets tough.

A team who witnesses an uncontrolled, wild, or negative reaction from there leader during times of high stress will eventually stop thinking creatively or offering innovative ideas because they fear their leader’s response.

There’s no shortcut here – you have to put in the work to establish the self-control necessary to handle any situation in a professional and rational manner. Where you may feel anger or frustration about something, there as to be a conscious process to pull your mind back from the tempting and quick action that resembles a volcano blowing its top. Instead approach the problem with logic and empathy.

Human beings are just that – human beings. We’re not robots, and sometimes we make mistakes, we don’t live up to either our own expectations or the expectations of others, or something completely external may happen in our private lives that begins to affect our work.

As a leader the only thing you can control is how you react, how you keep your emotions in check in order to decide which response and course of action is best for everyone involved. Take it from us – this is how you build a strong team. Self-control and trust are a feedback loop that cycle back into each other endlessly so long as you foster the relationship with your team.

That being said, there are a few ways to improve your self-control and prove to your employer that you have what it takes to make that senior role your own and head up a team.

1 – Become Conscious:

The first step is fairly logical – you have to recognise the situations arise that push you to the brink and make you lose the plot. Take a mental note of when you feel negative emotions, what they are, and how they creep into your consciousness.

Just by refusing to go along quietly as your mind sweeps you into a wave of negativity in the form of anger, disappointment, frustration, whatever it may be – you’ve taken the first conscious step. Recognising that your energy, both positive and negative, affects you and in turn those around you and the chance of a successful outcome for the situation at hand.

2 – Notice Your Negative Self Talk:

Would you believe that between 50,000 and 60,000 thoughts go through your mind each day? Some are fleeting, but others tend to stick around like a bad smell. Negative thoughts are a waste of energy, and giving into them with a weak will is a sure-fire way to end up burnt out and no use to anyone.

For example, beating yourself up about something, when it’s out of your control, is a very self-serving behaviour that does little to improve the situation. The more appropriate response would be to recognise the negative self-talk, and steer your thoughts towards what you can control, what you can actively affect to solve the issue or get you and your team out of strife.

Train yourself to choose how you respond to a situation.

3 – Breathing:

This isn’t some hippy new-age stuff, this is science. You can survive on a desert island with no food for weeks, or days out in the desert without water, by trying to survive for 5 minutes without air? As the saying goes, “breath is life”.

The natural reaction to stress is rapid breathing, it’s your body’s way of pumping itself full of oxygen to get ready to either fight your way out of trouble, or run from danger. The only problem is, you’re in an office setting – you’re not staring down a sabre-tooth tiger wearing a loincloth with a club in your land.

Whenever you feel negativity creeping in, control that breathing. 5 seconds in, 5 second hold, 5 second exhale. Just by taking out a measly 2 and a half minutes, and repeating the breathing exercise 10 times, you can return your mind back to a place of control and reason without giving in to a knee-jerk or explosive response.

4 – Self Care:

Again, you don’t have to be a spiritual person to take care of your spiritual health, just like you don’t need to be a gym junkie to take care of your physical health. Depletion of the body and mind manifests itself as bad habits like stress eating and sleep deprivation, which obviously destabilise any self-control you’ve built up. Neglecting yourself will become increasingly noticeable to your team not so much with your appearance, but more from your thinking and reactions as a leader.

By getting some regular exercise, and by choosing to nourish your spirit with acts of kindness, exploring your outside of work interests and hobbies, and ensuring your romantic life gets the attention it needs – that self-control muscle will remain as strong as ever.

5 – Eyes on The Prize:

Sure, it’s great to be aware of what’s right in front of you, reacting with logic and reason in the moment, but always keep an eye firmly fixed on the future. Big picture thinking is just as important as immediate priorities, especially in a team environment. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone has a job to do, and are working towards a singular goal.

Getting caught up in office politics, in petty squabbles, and general inter-office negativity distracts both you and your team. Remember that everyone is pulling in the same direction, that no one person is bigger than the team or the work, and that if there’s someone who refuses to tow the line and are causing the trouble then it might be time for them to get a tap on the shoulder.

As a leader you’ll come across this again and again in your career, so you have to hold yourself separate to the problem as you calmly untangle it, listen to the parties involved and what they have to say, and then diffuse the bomb so you can get back to business as usual.

So a bit of homework this week. Start to identify situations where you feel stressed, and how you react. Also take note of any negative self-talk, and make the decision to turn that thinking into something more constructive or positive. Take the time out to focus on your breathing whenever you need to – the world won’t stop if you take a couple minutes for yourself. Take the time to focus on your physical and mental wellbeing, and also just stay aware of the big picture – keep those eyes on the prize.

Self-control is something we aren’t born with, but that we can develop by putting in the work.


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