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Tag Archives: maintaining self-control

Identify Triggers and Keep Your Cool

Picture of man pointing and yelling, showing loss of self control.

Have you ever come dangerously close to losing your composure?

We’ve all been there. Sometimes—if we can’t control ourselves—it can lead to disastrous situations and negative impacts on relationships, employees, and colleagues.

Whether it’s a frustrating employee, irritating colleague, or even an exasperating client, you know that as a leader it is crucial to stay calm, poised, and positive.

What do you do in these situations?
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Self-discipline and restraint are admirable leadership qualities

self-disciplineA bowl of dried beans offers two possibilities.  One, you can cook them up for a satisfying protein-rich meal.  Or two, you can plant them, and watch the successful seeds produce many, many more.  Your choice will determine whether you have food now, or food later.  This situation is reminiscent of the Stanford marshmallow experiment.  The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification and self-discipline in the late 1960s and early 1970s, led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University.  If you are interested in learning more about the marshmallow experiment, I wrote about it (in 2007) in a Mega Minute titled Marshmallows, self-discipline, and success.

Beans … now or later

Let’s go back to the beans however.  If you’re the kind of person who guards your bowl of beans so that you can consume them all yourself, then you’ll certainly have a satisfying meal.  But your triumph will likely end there.  On the other hand, if you’re the leader who is willing to exercise self-discipline and self-restraint, at least in the short-term, and one who plants those seeds far and wide, you’ll create much greater potential.  Not only will you ensure a longer-term food supply for yourself, but you’ll also nourish others and build incredible goodwill with your staff, your colleagues, and your clients.

So, are you the leader who is willing to apply self-discipline and share your resources with others – information, your expertise, and your time – in order to build long-term success?  Or are you more interested in hoarding your sources and means because you are focused on victory today?  I hope you are the former, but I’d love to hear your perspectives.  Please share your thoughts below.

When things are out of control, are they really?

controlSome things are entirely and wholly out of my control.  Severe weather, for example.  I cannot effect change in the weather.  Whether it’s a sweltering heatwave, a blinding snowstorm, or a stormy hurricane, I can’t make the weather calamity go away, no matter how hard I try.

But, on the other hand, there are plenty of things I can do to control how I react and respond to harsh weather.  I can seek out a cooler environment (inside an air-conditioned shopping mall for example), delay my road-trip to future date to avoid wintry driving conditions, or gather essential documents and supplies as I evacuate to safer ground.  Instead of complaining about the effects of severe weather, I can choose to take thoughtful actions to avoid, or at least, mitigate the damage.

Just because we can’t control the situation doesn’t mean we can’t influence the outcome

There are a myriad of events in our lives that are outside our sphere of control.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t influence the final outcome.  Continue reading

Maintaining your composure – do you react or respond?

I have blogged many times about how important maintaining your composure is for you as a leader, even in trying situations. Doing math, managing your actions, and identifying main triggers have been suggestions I’ve made in the past. Lately, this issue came to the top of my mind again.

SpiderDuring a recent trip to Hong Kong, I found myself seated at a small table in a tiny streetside outdoor café one afternoon. There were only four other tables, equally small, all of them occupied. Suddenly, the two well-dressed women at one of the corner tables screamed loudly almost in unison, and stood up, shouting rapidly, nearly knocking over the table in their haste to get away. Even though I don’t understand Cantonese, it didn’t take me long to figure out what happened. A giant furry brown-and-white spider, still suspended by a remnant of a cobweb, had dropped down from the tree above, and come to a stop almost in front of the faces of the two women. Startled and obviously distressed, they almost knocked over their coffees and desserts in their rush to get as far as possible from the monster arachnid. It was mere seconds later that the café owner stepped from behind his counter, walked over to the table, gently lifted the offending spider and placed it on a bush a few feet away. The two women, still rapidly speaking in Cantonese, continued to be unnerved and agitated, presumably by the spider’s size.

As I watched the drama unfold over a matter of minutes, it occurred to me that it wasn’t the spider that caused the turmoil. Continue reading

Don’t let your anger send the wrong message to your staff and co-workers

businessman in anger screaming puff going out from earsLet’s face it, if you’re in a position of leadership, there are times when your staff (or your peers, or your boss) will do or say stupid things that will drive you nuts, enough that their actions may cause you to get angry enough to explode. Don’t. Your expression of anger says more about you than it does about them. When you get visibly angry, what you’re really saying, whether you mean to or not, is “I feel like I have lost control, so I have lost control.” What you’re really doing is saying that you feel helpless. Which often is the exact message that you don’t want to communicate.

Instead, improve your success as a leader by learning how to manage your anger. Here’s an approach that I’ve used for many years. Continue reading

Leave difficult personal issues outside the workplace

When you’re facing a personal crisis or dealing with difficult personal issues, it’s not unusual to want to get it off your chest by venting to others, often the people you work with.  It’s only human!  But … when you’re in a position of leadership, choosing who you voice your frustration to becomes critical.  Let me explain.

Dirty SockA manager at a client company is going through a messy marriage breakup, and not surprisingly, emotions in his personal life are running high.  On an almost daily basis, he rails on about his [insert colourful adjective] wife and her [insert just as vivid adjective] lawyer – to his staff, his co-workers, his clients, just about anyone who will listen.  Clearly he has got a lot on his mind and he needs to unload somewhere, but it’s the where that is the problem.  Airing your dirty laundry in public, without restraint, is never a good idea.  And probably without even realizing it, this manager is creating a very awkward working relationship (with his staff, co-workers and clients) AND seriously undermining his own credibility.  Continue reading

How to maintain your composure? Do math!

We’ve all had the experience of saying or doing something in the heat of the moment that we’ve regretted later. And in a professional environment, its consequences can carry serious negative repercussions to both career and business success. Even one inappropriate emotional outburst can tarnish your reputation for years to come. So it’s worthwhile knowing how to stay composed, positive and unflappable even in trying moments, and learning how to think clearly and stay focused under pressure. In previous blog posts addressing this subject, I’ve offered two ideas:

Identify your main triggers

Know that your actions will control the outcome of any situation

DoingMathHere is one more: do math! Yes, I know it sounds silly, but it’s actually VERY effective. When you’re facing stressful or difficult circumstances, the emotional centre of your brain (known as the amygdala) takes over. Math however is a logical activity which takes place in your neo-cortex, a separate part of your brain. By doing a math problem in your head, you will engage the logical neo-cortex of your brain and overcome the emotions centred in the amygdala. Continue reading

How to maintain your composure? Know that your actions will control the outcome of any situation.

Almost two years ago I wrote a blog post titled How to maintain your composure? Identify your main triggers. In it, I promised that I would offer additional ideas in future blog posts, and then of course, I promptly forgot! Well, I received an email last week from a reader who was surfing the archives and he gently pointed out to me that I had not kept my word! So for Jeremy (and anyone else who works with clients or employees who “push your buttons”), today’s blog post is for you!

When you find yourself in situations where you’ve come dangerously close to losing your cool because of a frustrating employee, an irritating colleague, or even an exasperating client, it’s important to recognize that that these people are behaving predictably. Your past experience with any specific one of these people means that you can expect or at least guess what they are going to say or do that will make you upset or angry. Realizing that this behaviour is predictable AND that they’re not going to change their behaviour MEANS that the only thing you can change is your own response or behaviour. Managing how you react will improve your control of the situation. Continue reading

A yo-yo versus a pendulum: a metaphor for leadership

PendulumClockDr. Michelle May is my professional colleague, and a physician who focuses on mindful eating.  Her entire philosophy is to get people to shift their thinking from yo-yo dieting to a more gradual approach.  “The problem with the metaphor of a yo-yo is that are only two options — up or down,” says Dr. May.  “You’re either tightly wound up around rules and restrictions or you’re unraveling towards the bottom again.  You’re either dieting or you’re on a binge!”  Gradual weight management on the other hand is more like a pendulum.  While there are still the two extremes of using all your energy trying to stay in control (so dieting) and spinning out of control (bingeing), there is also the gentle arc somewhere in the middle where you are in charge.  And it’s that arc of the pendulum that should be your objective.

It occurred to me that this metaphor of the yo-yo versus the pendulum is also very applicable to leadership.  Continue reading