The best leaders know that EQ trumps IQ when it comes to sustaining leadership effectiveness for the long haul. Leaders with higher levels of emotional intelligence can leverage their own emotions (and the emotions of others) to create better outcomes – for their business, their clients, their shareholders and the people they lead.

Daniel Goleman calls self-regulation “a star leader’s secret weapon.” Self-regulation allows us to choose how we will respond to emotions. It’s the engine that drives our ability to express emotional intelligence in interactions with other people. If emotions handcuff leaders to their impulses, self-regulation is the key to unlocking their full leadership potential.

Typically, self-regulation gets touted as the antidote to knee jerk, fist-banging, door-slamming tirades and temper tantrums. But that characterization only addresses  what happens when leaders routinely under-regulate emotions and abandon all caution in expressing those emotions. It’s only one end of the self-regulation continuum.

What happens on the other end of the continuum, when leaders over- regulate emotions,  tamping emotions down hard and avoiding any overt expression of them at all? 

Then we see behaviors in response to emotion that are less in-your-face but equally ineffective – sulking, passive aggression and conflict avoidance. When leaders over-regulate emotion, the crucial conversations that drive change become impossible. 

Over-regulating emotion handcuffs leaders just as surely as under-regulating does.

Great leaders know that emotions carry valuable information. They serve as an early warning system when we’re moving into territory that’s out of alignment with our values. 

Balanced self-regulation creates a middle ground that’s the key to our emotional handcuffs. It allows us to channel emotions in ways that move us – and the people we seek to influence – in the direction that is most aligned with our values and ultimate goals.

Image credit: Kim Turnage

The image above illustrates the kinds of outcomes and behaviors you can expect along the self-regulation continuum.

  • If your feelings control you (if you consistently under-regulate or over-regulate), you can’t fully leverage your potential as a leader. Letting emotions paralyze you is just as ineffective as letting them run away with you.
  • The only thing worse than consistently moving to one end of the continuum is randomly flipping between the two. Then you become totally unpredictable as a leader.
  • You want to be on the fulcrum. Balanced self-regulation means that you control your feelings and use them in ways that achieve desired results while maintaining high integrity to your values.

We started with the idea that EQ trumps IQ in the quest for leadership influence and effectiveness. The good news is that EQ is also an area of leadership in which everyone can learn, practice and grow. How can this understanding of self-regulation help? What else do you need to learn and practice so you can harness your emotions and unlock your full leadership potential?

Originally published at