So you want to be a Leader? Then show some Self-Control.

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In his public persona Donald Trump isn’t known for his supreme self-control or consistency. These are two traits that are essential for leaders to excel. The ‘Traits’ theory of leadership posits that good leaders demonstrate particular traits. This is an observational theory, essentially based on the study of good leaders and the typical traits that they demonstrate.  I say ‘demonstrate’ as opposed to ‘possess’ because it’s possible to show self-control, even though your natural state might be somewhat different. I’ve written previously about how consistency is vital for a leader, people simply can’t work for a leader that displays raw emotion too often.

In his seminal book Think & Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill stated that,  

“The leader who cannot control themselves can never control others. Self-control sets a mighty example for one’s followers, which the more intelligent will emulate” …..Napoleon Hill 

He wrote those words in 1937, in the midst of the great depression, when America looked for new and inspiring leaders to take make the nation viable again. His observation is as true today as it was in the middle of the longest and deepest economic downturn the developed world has ever experienced.  Hill’s observation has been backed up by numerous studies that reinforce the idea that self-control, sometimes referred to by other names, is an essential trait for leaders.  The complication is that for most of us is that it is difficult to demonstrate high levels of self-control over an extended period. Most of us don’t have an endless supply of self-control. I personally tend to view self-control is a resource that gets used up and that needs to be replenished.    

Maintaining self-control

Given the need to maintain your stocks of self-control, here are 3 tips for doing so. 

Avoid – naturally there are times when your self-control is depleted. Learn to recognise those times, perhaps when you’re tired or your workload is very high. Avoid those scenarios where you can. If you can’t avoid them, then recognise that it’s a vulnerable time. 

Focus  – taking time to devalue poor behaviour patterns that reduce self- control will help in understanding the impact of them. By focussing on long-term goals you’re much more likely to demonstrate self-control.  

Commitment – Reduce the options you have for poor self-control. A good tactic for doing this is by ‘burning your boats’, give yourself no other choice by making important decisions before you are in a tempting situation. If you’re in a setting where you’re negotiating set your red lines early so you know when to walk away.  

I think it’s fair to say that Donald Trump embraces the more recent theory that authenticity is one of the most important traits for a leader, whether or not he does so consciously is another matter.  However, if that particular leadership trait overshadows all others, then that is a problem. Authenticity is great, but not if your authentic self is driven by emotion. 

Post by Pete Wilson

Pete has worked in the technology and business change space for over 30 years. He's worked globally for large public sector and governmental bodies and for large private sector multinationals across numerous industry sectors.

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