Behavioural Self Control - A Crucial Leadership Trait

Great leaders are also excellent managers.

Good managers can effectively manage, direct, govern, and control anything they are entrusted to manage - even their own emotional responses and subsequent behaviour.

Emotion makes us human. In our previous article, we mentioned how emotion is a gift in and of itself.

Emotion, however, is such a powerful gift that it has the potential to make or break your leadership.

Take the case of former Hewlett Packard CEO, Meg Whitman. In 2011 she made the news headlines when she lost her cool at the office. According to several accounts, Whitman uttered an expletive and pushed a subordinate during an argument. Whitman’s emotional outburst not only cost the company’s stockholders a six-figure settlement but also damaged her most guarded reputation.

Has this ever happened to you? Was there a situation or moment at work or at home when you lost your cool? Was it was such an embarrassing moment that you wish you could go back in time, and manage your response to your emotions and behaviour differently?

Situations like this can damage your career, reputation, and relationships. Developing Behavioural Self-Control will help you avoid such problems by enabling you to navigate your emotions, be on your best behaviour, and bring out the best in your leadership.

The Importance of Behavioural Self Control

Behavioural Self-Control is the ability to keep disruptive emotions in check. Leaders and managers who score high in this competency can:

- Effectively manage their impulsive feelings and distressing emotions.

- Remain composed, positive, and calm even in trying moments.

- Regulate adverse reactions.

- Think clearly and stay focused under pressure.

- Choose not to aggravate a situation when attacked, provoked, or aggressively confronted by another.

- Remain "cool under pressure" when faced with hostility or disagreement.

A 2017 study conducted among 218 high-ranking United States Air Force officers found that those who scored high in Behavioural Self-Control are seen by their subordinates as more ethical and better leaders. Their team members also find them to have greater degrees of honesty, humility, empathy, and moral courage.

Conversely, leaders who are deficient in this area exhibit the following:

- Adapts with difficulty or reacts negatively to unforeseen situations, unexpected challenges, and negative information.

- Responds impulsively.

- Often has excessive emotional outbursts.

This kinds of negative behaviour amongst leaders affect not only their mental state and personal performance, but also that of their team.

A poll conducted by the Harvard Business Review among thousands of managers and employees from different organisations, shows how the leaders' display of mismanaged emotions affect their employee’s performance:

48% decreased their work effort.

47% decreased their time at work.

38% had a decrease in the quality of their output.

66% reported a reduction in performance.

80% lost work time worrying about the incident.

63% lost time avoiding the offender,

and 78% reported a decline in their commitment to the organisation.

Another study conducted by the Psychology Department at the University of Wollongong in Australia discovered that employees clearly recall their unpleasant interactions with their supervisors. These types of interactions demoralise them and drive them to the point where they no longer want to work with their employers.

Indeed, the importance of having Behavioural Self-Control amongst leaders and managers cannot be overemphasised. Leaders who know how to manage their emotions exhibit superior work performance, have healthier relationships with those around them and have happier and more productive team members.

Behavioural Self-Control: An Overlooked Leadership Trait

However, despite its importance, Behavioural Self-Control is often an overlooked aspect of leadership, especially in the business world. In most corporate manuals, Behavioural Self-Control is rarely mentioned among the key characteristics of a good leader. Vision, communication abilities, passion, decisiveness, confidence, integrity are famous in this list, but not Behavioural Self-Control.

The most probable reason for this neglect is that most corporate organisations emphasise outcomes, skills, and results rather than character or fundamental psychological capacities when considering leadership attributes.


Developing the Crucial Competency of Behavioural Self-Control

So how do you do develop the competency of Behavioural Self-Control?

Here are some developmental tips on improving your Behavioural Self-Control and leveling up on your leadership game:

Look deeper

Understand your emotions by recognising them and regularly checking on them. Reflect on how you responded to a recent situation in your life. How did you handle the problem and the people involved?

Exercise self-care

We sometimes become irritable when we are tired and when we lack sleep. Exercising Self-Care will improve your health and improve your mood as well.


Accept the fact that some things and circumstances are out of your control. Doing this will help you not adversely react to unfavourable circumstances.

Develop strategies

Practice specific ways to deal with each of these issues when they arise. After reflecting, think of what you could do differently when confronted with a similar situation. How can you make amends with the people affected by your outburst of emotion (if there are any)?

Reach out for help

There are some things in life that you cannot do alone. If you are having a hard time managing your emotional responses, enlisting the help of a professional will greatly help.


Great leadership and Behavioural Self-Control indeed go hand in hand. How about you? Would you like to take your leadership to the next level? If you do, you need to develop the competency of Behavioural Self-Control.

We Are Here to Help

At People Builders, we have a team of expert trainers and coaches who can help you in building you and your team’s Emotional Intelligence. Contact us today for a quick chat to see how we can partner with you to train and coach you and your team.

If you are interested in becoming certified to be a trainer and coach in Social and Emotional Intelligence, Applied Neuroscience, or Extended DISC, go to our People Builders Institute website.

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