layci nelson bosses

Does your boss do this? He should be self-regulating.

We’ve all had that boss. You know, the one who everyone walks on egg shells around. The one who has you constantly questioning if you will still have a job in a week. The one who is upbeat and positive about work and then completely livid or spirals downward quickly when something negative or unexpected happens.

Business is a roller coaster. But if the boss’ display of emotions are, too, your ship is going to sink — fast. And if you are that boss, stop right now and commit to getting yourself in check, because you are destroying your business and likely burning through employees. You are a nightmare to work for.

You needed to hear that. You are welcome and I am not sorry.

In my last column, we took a look at the necessity and value of emotional intelligence at work. Daniel Goleman, a pioneer of emotional intelligence, studied the factors that result in highly effective leadership and discovered that emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as technical skills and IQ. So, in quick review, the components of our emotions that we need to be in touch with:

  • Self awareness: Knowing your strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and impact on others.
  • Self-regulation: Controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods.
  • Motivation: Relishing achievement for its own sake.
  • Empathy: Understanding other people’s emotional makeup.
  • Social skill: Building rapport with others to move them in the desired direction.

Today we are going to take a closer look at self-regulation. The boss described above has poor self-regulation. He or she is usually a big feeler, is deeply loyal to the staff and genuinely cares about them. This boss is not a bad-guy movie character or a one-dimensional monster. He or she has the best intentions most of the time, and is often painfully unaware that these behaviors are seriously damaging the team.

And, because people do not feel safe in this work environment, no one has told the boss that acting like an ass hinders the productivity of the team. They do not want to poke the beast and start a downward spiral.

So, how do you know if you are this boss? As discussed in the last column, some self-awareness work is the first step. If you think you might be this boss, you probably are.

A boss who has dialed in self-regulation has some definite hallmarks. These bosses think before they act and suspend immediate judgment on any situation before taking a moment to think through the facts. They are perceived as trustworthy and are comfortable with ambiguity and open to change. Self-regulation does not mean we no longer have feelings or experience big emotions; it simply means we are free from being prisoners to those feelings. They don’t get to drive the bus.

Imagine an executive who has just watched his employees give a train wreck of a presentation to the most valuable customer on the books. In the heaviness that follows, that boss may be tempted to pound the table in anger and yell at the under-prepared team. Or perhaps take the silent route and give the death stare to everyone in the room before storming out.

However, if this leader has developed some self-regulation, the response would look quite different. Words would be chosen carefully and the poor performance would absolutely be acknowledged. However, this would be done without judgment, and the team would then be guided through a deconstruction of the failure. Together they would look at what went wrong. Was it a personal lack of effort? Are there any mitigating factors? What was the boss’ own role in this disaster? The boss would lay out the consequences for the failure and then present a conclusion about what went wrong — and present a well-considered solution to get the customer relationship back on track.

According to Goleman, a pioneer of emotional intelligence study, self-regulation matters intensely for leaders for many reasons.

1. People who are in control of their feelings and impulses — that is, people who are reasonable — are able to create an environment of trust and fairness. There are countless studies that confirm that these work environments attract and retain top performers, and it’s here that creativity and production flow best.

2. It is important for competitive reasons. Companies are changing quickly in today’s fast-paced environment. The leaders in these organizations don’t panic; they listen, seek out information and roll things out. Emotionally regulated people can move with change and embrace it when it happens. And in work life, it always happens.

3. It enhances integrity. Many of the bad things that happen in companies are a function of impulsive behavior. People rarely misrepresent or exaggerate deliverables, lie about profit margins, pad expense accounts or abuse power for selfish ends when they have a high level of self-regulation.

As you lead your people, begin to take note of your own self-regulation. Be careful not to mistake a fiery temperament and outbursts as charm and charisma. I promise you your employees do not. Take a hard look at yourself and determine if self-regulation is something you need to improve.

Now, go manage like a leader.

Layci Nelson owns Nelson Management Strategies

and the Iron and Mortar Summit.