An integral component of emotional intelligence, self-regulation, or self-management is the ability to keep one’s emotions in check, preventing emotional outbursts and haphazard decisions resulting from a heightened emotional state. Above and beyond this simplistic definition, in the context of intelligent leadership, the concept of self-regulation also covers the ability to maintain standards of integrity, take responsibility, and be comfortable with change.

Serenity now!

Together with self-awareness, empathy, and motivation, self-regulation makes up what we call emotional intelligence—one of the core leadership skills. Given its importance in this lineup, it would not be wrong to consider self-regulation a core leadership skill in and of itself.

How does leadership development address self-regulation?

How Can You Develop this Essential Leadership Skill?

In my leadership development books, I have also defined self-regulation as the ability to redirect disruptive emotional impulses. Science adopts a similar approach to determining ways in which leaders can cope with their negative moods and impulses.

There are four self-regulation strategies, and although people are tempted to assume that everyone can or should develop a regulation strategy that’s uniquely suited to his or her needs, in reality, most such strategies likely already incorporate the following:

  • Situation modification
  • Attentional deployment
  • Cognitive reappraisal
  • Suppression

Situation modification is a regulation strategy aimed at altering the external circumstances that triggered the negative emotional response. As such, this strategy does not deal with emotions directly.

Situation modification implies the existence of some degree of control over the situation on the part of the leader. This coping mechanism also requires the leader to emotionally understand the situation as well as the potential paths it may take.

Attentional deployment approaches emotional regulation from the dual angle of distraction and focus. You can focus on certain aspects of the situation that are or were responsible for your negative emotional response, or you can distract yourself by thinking “happy thoughts” to mitigate the emotional impact.

How useful this coping strategy is in a leadership setting depends on the situational demands, although science has found both of its subtypes to have positive effects on leadership outcomes.

Cognitive reappraisal reframes a situation through reinterpretation and perspective-taking. This approach allows leaders to mold the meaning of the situation into one that elicits a different emotional response on their part.

This emotional regulation mechanism lends itself well to leadership settings, as it focuses on broadening perspectives and improving situational awareness.

Reframing your perspective is perhaps the most effective self-regulation strategy. 

Suppression is a common way leaders deal with frustration and other negative emotions. It is, however, hardly an optimal emotional-response modulating solution, as it leads to stress, which can then amplify the suppressed emotions, and generate other negative leadership outcomes.

The Link between Self-regulation and Leadership Performance

Self-regulation impacts leadership performance in obvious and subtle ways. Effective self-regulation enhances leadership skills, such as:

  • Conflict resolution
  • Decision-making
  • The ability to inspire followers
  • The reception and provision of feedback
  • The willingness to take risks

This scientific classification of self-regulation strategies offers important clues to leadership training professionals. To determine the optimal self-regulation strategy for a given situation, leadership training professionals look at two fundamental variables.

  • The efficacy of the regulation strategy (we have determined that suppression is seldom the ideal approach, while cognitive reappraisal tends to work well in most leadership settings).
  • How easy or difficult it is to apply a strategy in a given situation.

From the perspective of leadership development, the two regulation methods that yield the most significant positive results are situation altering and cognitive reappraisal.

Suppression creates mostly negative outcomes, while attentional deployment fails to make a significant impact either way.

Check out my leadership coaching services if you are interested in learning specific ways in which you can assert control over your emotions while building up the cornerstone of your leadership skills: emotional intelligence.


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