Managing your emotions: the undervalued linchpin in leadership

Look around at the people in your life who have been successful for a long period of time, and you’ll notice one common denominator, and it’s not how much money they have their bank account.  Take a close look and you’ll find that all of them have an uncanny ability to manage their emotions.

When things go wrong, they don’t get depressed and think the world is coming to an end.  When things go right, they don’t parade around as though they are the greatest person to ever walk the planet.  To put it simply, they don’t allow momentary circumstances to affect their attitude, their demeanor, or their long-term outlook.

So how does one improve on this ability to manage emotions in any and all situations?  The short answer: one situation at a time.  Here are a few suggestions to improve your ability to manage your emotions in those situations:

  1. Expect the unexpected at all times.  Emotions are often a product of experiencing an unexpected outcome.  When something doesn’t go our way, we get upset.  If something great happens, we want to tell everyone.  These responses are natural, but they aren’t very effective in producing long-term success.  As a high school golf coach, I would often remind my players to never let a birdie go to their head or a bogey go to their heart.  Stay level, and just keep playing.
  2. Respond, don’t react, to every outcome.  When people react, they often don’t think about how what they are doing or saying in that moment, which leads to videos on YouTube and public apologies.  On the contrary, those who respond to situations take enough time to evaluate what happened and come up with the best possible solution at the time, even if the response takes a little bit of time to develop.  It’s often in the midst of crisis people say and do regretable, often damaging words and actions.
  3. Don’t take situations personally.  Although business (and life) must be personal in order to be successful, true leaders view all situations impersonally, seeing all sides before making a determination on the best response.  By removing the emotion of personal offense or flattery, they view every moment as a problem to be solved.
  4. Seek to understand before being understood.  See the whole situation from everyone’s perspective by asking others what they think and feel before offering your own opinion.  Wait to share your thoughts about a situation until you have processed all of the details and your initial reactions to them.
  5. Understand the numbers. Business is a game of numbers, and understanding how to interpret the numbers of your business will also tell you a lot about the situations in which you find yourself, and the people with whom you work.  This approach is a great way to evaluate your family budget and move in a positive direction financially.  Taking a numbers approach removes the emotion and makes managing your emotions much easier.

A good friend of mine once described the difference between a gambler and a blackjack dealer to emphasize the significance of managing emotions.  As the gambler won a few hands at the table, his mood lightened, his laughter filled the table, and his drink orders increased in frequency.  As is often the case, his good fortune quickly vanished in a few bad hands, and his demeanor shifted from joy to sorrow.  His head stooped low, his jokes came to an end, and his drink orders continued to increase in frequency!

However, the dealer’s mood never changed.  When the gambler won, he just kept dealing.  When the gambler lost, he just kept dealing.  He complimented the gambler on a good hand and sympathized with him on a bad hand, but his emotions stayed just about the same regardless.  He was able to do this because he wasn’t emotionally involved in the game.

To effectively manage your emotions, focus on being the dealer, not the gambler.


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