Are you at risk of derailing as a leader?

By Gale Mote | Management Column

Some leaders demonstrate the right behaviors to keep their followers engaged and aligned, even in turbulent times. They are steadfast, decisive, resilient and focused.

In a study conducted between Multi-Health Systems (MHS) and the Center for Creative Leadership, Dr. Marion Ruderman discovered four attributes of highly respected and effective leaders: being centered and grounded (impulse control), having the ability to be decisive and take action (independence), being tough minded (stress tolerance) and having a participative management style (problem solving). Emotional intelligence (EQ) accounted for 28% of leadership effectiveness.

MHS, in their assessment EQ-i 2.0, notes that the inability to demonstrate these skills consistently and appropriately will potentially derail a leader.

Impulse control is the ability to think before acting and to show restraint in the face of temptations to act. Imagine a leader who makes knee-jerk decisions without having the facts or thinking through the pros and cons of a proposed action. What about someone who throws emotional temper tantrums and hijacks the meeting? The impact is devastating to those in the wake of the leader’s impulses and negatively ripples out to stakeholders. Trust is lost and the organization is constantly in repair mode.

Leaders who have developed strong impulse control are stable, composed and methodical. Using the duck analogy, they appear to be gliding along with all the challenges; however, their feet are paddling like crazy under the water. Leaders are deliberate and apt to survey a situation before making a decision. Patient and calm in their communications, they build trust and confidence in the team’s ability to overcome obstacles and achieve positive outcomes.

One can develop impulse control by recognizing one’s emotions in the moment – emotional self-awareness. Next, choose a response such as breathing, taking a moment of pause, and assessing the reality of the situation. Leaders who demonstrate impulse control recognize that not taking immediate action allows them to tap into their talents and resources to make good decisions with high levels of commitment.

Independence means that leaders will be true to the values of the organization, unlikely swayed by what is popular or trendy. Their self-assuredness, not arrogance, allows them to make decisions on their own without second-guessing themselves.

Not all decisions a leader makes will be popular or well-liked. It is important that others have respect for the decision. Demonstrating independence also means knowing when to go it alone and when to involve others. Be sure to clearly define the problem. Decide whether you need commitment or compliance and then make the effort to involve the right people at the right time. Identifying decision-making boundaries and clarifying decision rights helps to eliminate confusion around who makes the decision and why.

Leaders with high levels of stress tolerance can operate at peak performance under situations of mounting pressure and approaching deadlines. They keep the goal in front of the team while breaking the tasks into manageable priorities – celebrating small wins and progress along the way.

They have identified coping strategies to mitigate the effects of challenges and difficulties that arise. Some take a walk, while others meditate. Others use appropriate humor to lighten the tension. Relying on fact, not fiction, these leaders focus on what they can control and influence, not wasting time on what is uncontrollable. Demonstrating empathy for those who do not handle stress well, they get feedback on workloads and involve others in finding solutions. These leaders eat well, exercise and get the proper amount of rest.

Problem solving is an everyday reality for leaders. Being able to reframe a problem and approach it in new ways allows the team to be innovative. It is important to view problems from different perspectives, identify who will be affected and how, along with the emotions at play. Then, take a rational approach to state the case, generate multiple alternatives, objectively evaluate the options, choose the one who will most likely achieve the targeted results, implement, and assess the outcomes. Learn from failure, admit mistakes, and apply the lessons going forward.

It is possible with discipline and focus to develop one’s impulse control, independence, stress tolerance and problem-solving skills. Keep yourself on track to becoming a strong, effective leader.

Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at