Giving in to impulse

We’re all human. We’ve all found ourselves in situations so frustrating or stressful that we’ve exploded. We’ve snapped at our partner, shouted at the kids, lost our temper in a meeting or our patience with a friend. And we all know the feeling of regret that follows. Regret at the negative impact we’ve had on those we care about. Regret at our loss of reason. Regret that we’ve revealed our raw emotions to people we work with.

The regret kicks in as we observe the consequences of our outburst. And, of course, the consequences are greater when it’s our job to bring out the best in others. Parents, teachers, leaders – and many others – carry a uniquely heavy responsibility to stop, think and control their impulses when they communicate.

Why we need leaders to hold it in

Leaders have it tough. They’re expected to commit to business objectives and deliver them with urgency. They’re held accountable for their team members’ successes and failures. They’re asked to be the cultural ‘glue’ for their team, to instil hope in the face of change and competition, and to behave in a way that upholds their organisations’ values. Under a downpour of priorities and imperatives, great leaders act like an umbrella. They shield their team from performance-hindering distractions. And they control their emotional reactions to remain calm and positive.

But many struggle to keep the umbrella up, overwhelmed by pressures from above or by the level of stress they experience every day. And their team members feel the impact. Outbursts when things don’t go to plan. Pacesetting emails at 3 am or weekends. Lectures when they need to be listened to. Intolerance when they need attention or development. Directives when they need help to shape their own ideas and solutions.

Low impulse control destroys a leader’s ability to fulfil the essence of their role – to delegate effectively. It generates a toxic climate of fear and dependency. Team members will sweep problems under the carpet, rather than face a potential explosion. And they’ll bring their problems to you, rather than dare to suggest their own solutions. 

Staying poised and positive

When I work with leaders on their impulse control, their development actions typically fall into three areas:

Quick wins. Take a deep breath, count to 10, take time out, even leave the room. Anything that interrupts your immediate reaction and gives you time to think and regain control of what you do and say next.

New reflections. Start to take notice of your triggers: the situations that spark your negativity or outbursts. Observe when your stress levels ‘ratchet’ up, bit by bit, and practice cooling down before the spanner snaps.

Change your context. If stress or tiredness is an everyday experience, it’s hard to maintain self-control. Take a good look at your situation and identify what you can change or delegate to lighten your load. See where you can introduce stress-busting exercise or relaxation into your schedule. Find a yoga class, a local choir, a new sport or a distracting hobby – anything you’ll enjoy that will lessen your stress or fatigue.

Leaders who work on their emotional self-control buy themselves valuable time. Time to listen with attention, to ignite new ideas and to generate commitment. Time to reflect on the leader they want to be, to lead with vision and to coach for long-term growth. And, as a result, they create a climate of trust and safety that empowers their people to contribute.

Thanks for reading!

If you’ve enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you. If you think it can help others with their self-control, please pass it on. If you want to transform your meetings and generate time for thinking and listening, let me know if you are interested in joining an online version of our one-day, interactive workshop. Connect with me on LinkedIn or simply get in touch with me. 

Photo by Yosh Ginsu on Unsplash

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