How To Use Self-Regulation As A Leader

Leadership Coaching, Mental Health, Self Awareness
02/09/21 - Sara Dawson

Being an impactful leader takes more than business acumen and intelligence – it also requires emotional smarts and self-regulation. Author and psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence”, helped popularize the term and create more awareness of it in the 90’s. Goleman believes that success in life requires more than IQ alone. His research showed that almost 67% of competencies required for high-performing leaders were related to emotional intelligence. As if that weren’t compelling enough, Goleman also believes that IQ only contributes to 20% of our success in life.The remaining 80% comes from emotional intelligence!

Understanding the 5 key emotional intelligence skills enables us to build our own leadership strength and effectiveness. Today we are focusing on one of the 5 key emotional intelligence skills of self-regulation.

Emotional Intelligence Defined 

While multiple definitions of emotional intelligence abound, Goleman identified 5 elements of EQ that contribute to successful leadership: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Through his evaluation of EQ in the workplace, he observed that the higher the level leader within an organization, the greater the impact of EQ on their overall effectiveness. Technical skills and cognitive abilities (IQ) were also important capability areas that were evaluated to determine the ingredients of effective leaders. While these other two areas also mattered, emotional intelligence was shown to be twice as important!

Today we will explore one of the very important 5 EQ dimensions to understand what it means, how it shows up in the workplace, and how to strengthen your own self-regulation skill and better lead your team:


What It Means

Goleman defines self-regulation as “the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulsive and moods, and the propensity to suspend judgment (to think before acting.)” In the most basic sense, self-regulation simply involves controlling one’s behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. It means thinking before we act or speak, and being in control of our emotions rather than simply reacting to our environment.

What It Looks Like

Individuals with a high level of self-regulation pause and think before acting. They adapt to new situations and embrace ambiguity with a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset (they define their destiny vs. a reactionary approach.) They are able to control their emotions, and effectively regulate their thoughts and communication accordingly. 

Self-Regulation In Action

Self-regulation applies to all areas of life. It involves acting in accordance with your long-term goals and values, both personally and professionally. For example, if we value your health and fitness (a long term goal and value), even when it’s tough to wake up early, we will motivate yourself to get up in the morning to work out. At work, self-regulation often shows up with our emotional regulation. For example, an employee might say something that comes across as rude and hurtful. Instead of reacting quickly and saying something we may regret later, when we use our self-regulation skills we may pause, write some notes, and take a moment to collect our thoughts then reply with a healthy feedback statement instead of an angry, snarky reply.

Two women talking by the window and taking notes

How To Better Lead Your Team

Here are several ways you can start flexing your self-regulation muscle today:

Active Listening

Engage in active listening with your team with a focus on pausing before engaging. Ask more questions instead of just giving your opinion to ensure team alignment and connection to the topic at hand. Get curious, and begin your responses with a question vs. an answer. Asking thoughtful questions is a powerful tool to effectively influence and drive change. Knowing what to ask and when is not always easy, but it is truly a game-changer to create rewarding and impactful conversations.


Focus on being flexible to change, and encourage the same value in your team. Adapt to your environment, support one another, and don’t let your initial emotional response keep you stuck in the past. Instead, shift your mindset by asking empowering questions (i.e. What’s most important right now? What’s the ideal outcome I am looking to achieve? What do I need to believe or feel to support my goal?)


Lead by Example and do what you say you will do. Demonstrate what it means to be a great leader. Pull your team together and openly discuss the culture of the company and the team. Communicate openly with your team by being clear, transparent and honest. This will create a psychologically safe work environment and build even more trust.  By creating a culture that promotes trust you will together have formed a team that as a whole can think before they act. Take a moment today and ask yourself, can my team think before they act? Have I created a trusting environment? Does everyone feel safe speaking up and sharing? Consider these questions and take note of what areas you need to develop.  

Looking for Leadership Support?

Building your emotional intelligence is an ongoing practice, and self-regulation is a key trait under this umbrella. Just like building physical muscle, building mental muscle requires many reps to develop results, and coaching can help! Partnering with a coach is such a powerful tool to help you set and achieve your goals. If you are ready to take your leadership to the next level, schedule your free leadership coaching consult today! We look forward to connecting with you.

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