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Learning Leadership: Leadership Skill Set 2: Self-Regulation

Has someone disrespected you in a group setting? Have you clearly been treated unfairly? Do you sometimes sense that no one is listening or that you’re unappreciated? If you find yourself affirmatively answering any of these questions – or all of them – you must learn and understand self-regulation, the second skill set in learning to lead through emotional intelligence.

Science validates that in order to be a top performer at any task, self-awareness – which is discussed at length in the February 2013 issue of Incident Prevention – and self-regulation are key. These two skills are the basis for what Dr. Daniel Goleman, in his most recent webinar, “The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: Latest Findings” (, calls self-mastery.

Simply put, self-mastery is learning how to prevent yourself from blowing a gasket and, even more importantly, learning how to preserve your health. It’s about gaining a greater understanding of what goes on inside of you. Each day, while you are navigating difficult people and challenging problems, self-mastery helps you learn how to become more aware and to regulate thoughts and emotions.

Self-awareness and self-regulation are consistently found in people identified as outstanding individuals and star performers, and both qualities are necessary to be an effective leader. If you are already a star performer, you need to understand how these two skills contribute to your success as a leader. If you long to be a star performer, self-awareness and self-regulation will aid in your development.

Negative Bias
Because your brain is designed for survival, you have what’s called a negative bias. Essentially, you are hardwired to seek out threats and search for what’s wrong. It’s why we see so much rubbernecking on the highway when passing by an accident – everyone wants to see what happened. There’s no reason to stress out about this negative bias since it’s ingrained in all of us.

When you encounter someone you’ve never met or a difficult person you already know, your brain will automatically seek out what’s wrong about the person, the conversation and the situation. It is natural for you to do this, and you should work to learn about and understand it. You should also learn to get over it when you come across someone who always sees the negative side of things.

Where self-regulation becomes important is if you are the one who is constantly seeking and finding the negative aspects of a situation. The negative bias your brain has will lead you to make poor, unintentional judgments about people, places and events. This, in turn, will lead you to make false or negative impressions on people. Your ability to positively influence others – the long and short of leadership – will be hindered. Your relationships will be tainted and you will be to blame because you allowed a pre-programmed negative bias to take control over you and the voice in the back of your head.

A great example is an experience I had in a recent team meeting that included my supervisors and foreman. I gave them very specific instructions and yet they heard something else. I asked everyone to write the following on a piece of paper:
• Three things I am doing well in my job.
• Three things I can do better in my job.

After giving the instructions, I quickly restated them and emphasized that regarding the second statement, they should write down exactly what I said – “three things I can do better at my job” – and not “three things I am doing wrong.” Immediately following the meeting, one of my leaders came to me with a pen and paper and asked me to repeat the second assignment. As he was asking me to repeat it, he was pointing to what he wrote down on the paper, which read, “Write three things I do wrong.”

Emotional Hijacking
We’ve established that you seek out what is wrong by design. The key to performance improvement, however, is to discipline your mind to seek out what is right. When the chatter in your head focuses on what is wrong, you create what’s called an emotional hijacking. During this type of hijacking, your body has a physiological response in which hormones are released into your system. Additionally, you experience memory shuffles, learning is inhibited, innovation and creative thinking fly out the window, and new ideas are nowhere to be found. You then rely on old habits, past behaviors you’ve demonstrated time and time again. No one can be innovative or flexible during an emotional hijacking.

In my 20 years as a trainer and coach, I have realized some people have little interest in understanding these facts about thoughts and emotions. They couldn’t care less about what’s happening inside themselves or other people and wish everyone would get with the program. And while it may be easy to disregard people’s feeling in personal relationships, it’s not so easy in professional relationships. You can’t just cut out colleagues and think the relationship issues will go away; they will not. Not only will the problems mount, but now you are contributing to and promoting immature behavior by neglecting to bridge the gaps of diversity.

The fact is, when you let that little voice in your head run rampant with negative thoughts toward someone, at that moment, all by yourself, you create a low-grade emotional hijacking inside yourself. This hijacking affects you in that moment and further affects you and your behavior when you are distressed or under pressure.

Mastering Self-Regulation
Instead of continuing to emotionally hijack yourself, it’s time to learn to regulate disruptive thoughts and emotions by paying closer attention to your internal states. Through this practice, you can learn to make better, wiser decisions in stressful situations. Following are definitions of the five core competencies of self-regulation plus simple tips to practice throughout your busy days.

1. Self-Control
Definition: Managing disruptive emotions and impulses. People with this competence manage their impulsive feelings and distressing emotions well; stay composed, positive and unflappable even in trying moments; and think clearly and stay focused under pressure.
Practice Tip: Each day, as often as you can, ask yourself what you are thinking and feeling. When your thoughts and emotions are negative, expect a low-grade hijacking. Learn to take control, discipline the voice in your head and positively adjust your thinking. The goal is to navigate the day with this new awareness before you encounter difficult people and situations that can lead to a hijacking.

2. Trustworthiness
Definition: Maintaining standards of honesty and integrity. People with this competence act ethically and are above reproach; build trust through their reliability and authenticity; admit their own mistakes and confront unethical actions in others; and take tough, principled stands even if they are unpopular.
Practice Tip: Today’s workforce diversity requires you to define, voice and act on your values. Each day, practice talking about and writing down what you stand for and believe in. Have conversations with yourself, one-on-one and in group meetings as often as you can.

3. Conscientiousness
Definition: Taking responsibility for personal performance. People with this competence uphold their commitments; hold themselves accountable for meeting their objectives; and are organized and careful in their work.
Practice Tip: Define what new daily disciplines you must put in place by having honest conversations with yourself about cleaning up all neglect. When something doesn’t go well, seek to understand what role you played in the matter. Learn to accept responsibility for your actions, which will lead to a greater level of maturity, a defining characteristic of effective leaders.

4. Adaptability
Definition: Flexibility in handling change. People with this competence smoothly handle multiple demands, shifting priorities and rapid change; adapt their responses and tactics to fit fluid circumstances; and are flexible in how they see events.
Practice Tip: Always remember the phrase “it’s possible.” When a solution to a problem is needed quickly and you’re having negative thoughts and emotions, you must learn to tell your brain that a viable solution is possible even when it doesn’t appear that way.

5. Innovativeness
Definition: Being comfortable with and open to new ideas and information. People with this competence seek out fresh ideas from a wide variety of sources; entertain original solutions to problems; generate new ideas; and take fresh perspectives and risks in their thinking.
Practice Tip: Instead of getting bogged down by a problem, person or situation, practice looking at the big picture. Ask yourself what else is going on – what are other people’s thoughts and feelings? These times of personal reflection allow you to venture outside the present moment and create mental states that promote new ideas and creative thinking.

Your lesson objective is to study each skill set of emotional intelligence, and the Learning Leadership series is just part of your educational journey. To truly become emotionally intelligent, do your research – read, listen to audio books and do everything you can to develop new ideas with the intent of improving your critical thinking skills. By exposing yourself to these new ideas and learning new skills – along with practicing patience and perseverance – you will experience improved results in leading yourself, your family and your enterprise, in that order.

About the Author: Parrish Taylor is the author and instructor of Mental & Emotional Training (M.E.T.), a skills development program. He has successfully implemented workforce development strategies within the electric utility sector for numerous clients including Entergy, Cleco and Oklahoma Gas & Electric. To learn more, visit Taylor has also served as an adult learning consultant for the last 20 years. Learn more at

Editor’s Note: “Learning Leadership” is a series dedicated to the human side of doing your job well. Each article in the series will help readers develop a greater understanding of the mental and emotional skills necessary to succeed in today’s workplace. If you have comments about this article or a topic idea for a future issue, please contact Parrish Taylor at 866-487-2815 or

Leadership Development