Understanding self-regulation to monitor your emotions and lead with integrity

Paul Slezak

It was just a regular Monday morning in the office. 

Groups of colleagues catching up on the weekend; the routine hustle and bustle in the kitchen; a few outbursts of laughter; gossip about the latest episode of whatever scandalous cult TV series had aired the night before; and the fax machines operating overtime as resumes, cover letters, and time sheets spilled on to the floor.  

Although I’ve just dated this moment to sometime in the late 90’s, like I said, it was just a regular Monday morning in the office of a busy and buzzing recruitment business. 

Until he walked in. 

Nobody had heard the door open. Everyone was far too busy enjoying the last few social moments before another week began. But we definitely all heard the door slam shut. 

Then, like a soldier on patrol, he stormed past without acknowledging anyone’s presence and went straight into his office and shut the door. 

Nobody said a word. Everyone kind of just quietly made their way back to their desks and sat down. 

In less than 30 seconds, our boss had single handedly killed the vibe and brought a dark cloud over the office, setting a very sombre tone for what should otherwise have been an upbeat start to a new week. 

You could have heard a pin drop. 

Had something happened at home? Maybe someone had run into the infamous BMW 5-series on his way into the office? Had we just lost a major contract? To have found this out first thing on a Monday morning seemed highly unlikely! Was he getting sacked? Had someone finally lodged a formal bullying complaint? 

Nobody knew. 

He re-surfaced at about 10:30am but was in a vile mood for that entire day. Even his PA would whisper, “maybe not today”, or “can it wait?” if you approached his office. 

I would often think back to that morning reflecting on how anxious, uneasy, and shaken he had made us all feel. But there was one day (albeit more than 20 years later) when his actions were at the forefront of my mind. 

I’d been to a meeting with a potential investor who had recently committed to injecting a very large sum of money into my own company. This was a game changer. Without her investment, we would be living on the precipice, and I would probably be forced to make some very difficult decisions. The team knew this. 

During our meeting, she told me she’d given it a lot of thought, and had decided that despite us having discussed terms, she would no longer be going ahead with the deal. It wasn’t a case of reducing the amount of her investment. There was no investment. 

She had caught me completely off guard, and I felt like I’d been kicked in the guts. I knew I would have to tell the Board, but this wasn’t my biggest concern. I would now have to walk back into the office and tell the team who I knew would immediately want to know exactly what hard decisions I was going to have to make. 

I couldn’t get the image of my former boss out of my head. How he had stormed through the office without making eye contact with anyone and slammed his door. It had taken place two decades earlier, but I could picture it like it had happened yesterday. 

I would never want my team members to experience an episode like that. 

They didn’t.  

And to this day, I’m personally very proud of how I not only handled facing the team and delivering the news to everyone in the office and to those working remotely, but then how I communicated the changes I would have to make as a result of the investor backing out. 

When I told the Board what had transpired, one of the advisors (with a Masters in Organisational Psychology) said, “Well at least your self-regulation is in check, or we’d be going into damage control and picking up the pieces right about now”. 

I took it as a compliment. 

In a recent article, we did a deep dive into self-awareness and the importance of knowing your emotions, strengths, weaknesses and values, and their impact on others, particularly for a leader. In this piece, our focus is on self-regulation – a fellow core competency of emotional intelligence - referring to a leader’s ability to control their emotions and prevent erratic or irrational outbursts, resulting from what psychologists refer to as “a heightened emotional state”. 

At a high level, self-regulation is about displaying predictable and calming behaviour in front of your team members, regardless of external challenges. 

Consider the following scenarios: 

  • You have handled the company’s largest account for the last 3 years. Despite presenting a solid pitch to retain the work, you lose the deal to a far less established player. 
  • You receive a call at work from the owner of the building company doing your home renovation letting you know they’ve gone bust, and your project can’t be completed. The renovation is only half completed. 
  • Your boss (or Board) delivers you some pretty scathing feedback based on a series of complaints from various team members who chose to escalate their concerns to your superiors. 
  • An acquisition you’ve been working on for over a year which would ensure market domination in another state decides against the deal at the eleventh hour. 
  • You find out that your peer in another market received a substantial pay bump, but you are told that there will be no pay increases in your region for at least the next 12 – 18 months. 
  • Your top salesperson, who is responsible for over 70% of new business revenue, resigns to take on a new role with your biggest competitor. 

What emotions are forming in your mind? How would you react (or perhaps how have you reacted) to situations like these? What impulses might you find yourself having to control?

What tactics, if any, do you use in order to cope with a negative mood brought on by an unexpected grenade disrupting the status quo? 

And just imagine if 2 or 3 of these scenarios hit you in the same week? How’s your blood pressure now? 

As a leader you are constantly faced with challenges. Some might be minor, but others can really knock you for six. It’s the way you handle yourself and your emotions (and therefore how you appear in the eyes of your team members) that determines your level of self-regulation in challenging situations. 

Slamming a door, marching through the office avoiding eye contact, and making your team members feel uneasy (as my former boss so famously did back in the day) are certainly not good examples of self-regulation.  

Letting your impulses take over and projecting your own anxiety onto others isn’t a very conducive trait of an emotionally intelligent leader. 

If you do possess strong self-regulation, it means that you are conscious of how you control your emotions and tame your impulses, and you’re aware of how you react in certain situations particularly in front of your team members. You don’t shout, take your anger out on others, or make erratic decisions. Above all, you are level-headed and continue to lead with a calm demeanor even when grenades are going off around you. This is also an example of situational leadership – but more about that another time. 

When all is said and done, self-regulation is all about acting as opposed to reacting when you find yourself in pressured situations. However, for a leader even if there are challenging circumstances in your personal life, it’s important not to let them impact how your team sees you. We’re certainly not saying that you should suppress your emotions. But it’s how you manage (or ‘regulate’) these emotions particularly in a team setting that should be carefully considered. 

Projecting a calm and mature demeanor and acting rationally and with integrity, particularly when you’re under a lot of pressure, will certainly stand you in good stead.

On the other hand, snapping at team members or projecting a lack of control and panic will only create tension and anxiety in your team members, which could ultimately then be further projected on to your customers, which is never a good look. 

How you choose to monitor your emotions is entirely up to you. You might choose to mitigate an outburst by thinking positive or calming thoughts, or maybe even reframing the situation in your mind resulting in a different series of less irrational emotions. Whatever strategy you choose for yourself will ensure that nobody feels responsible for something they had nothing to do with.  

Only you know what pushes your hot buttons.

Focusing on your self-regulation by taking a deep breath if you are triggered, or by drafting an email and coming back to it in the morning after a good night’s sleep as opposed to pressing send on it in a frustrated state, will reinforce your position as strong leader – particularly in more challenging times. 

Remember, Hellomonday provides coaching and support to every leader, prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained learning and change, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, and ideally helping leaders understand the importance of self-regulation.