Impulsive people are generally short-sighted and don’t take the time, or initiative, to carefully consider the possible outcomes of their actions.

For the past decade, we’ve turned to books, podcasts, blogs and lists on Google to understand the perfect recipe for effective leadership. Over time, some character traits have developed a pretty bad rap. Whether it’s closed-mindedness, micromanagement, indecisiveness or fragility, there are a number of traits that many agree aren’t qualities of good leaders.

One such trait that’s fallen victim to a character assassination is impulsivity, which I want to explore today.

Impulsivity is generally associated with people who are short-sighted and don’t take the time, or initiative, to carefully consider the possible outcomes of their actions. Acting on impulses has had a negative connotation and has been positioned as something that must be concealed. But like all things – there’s a time and a place for it. The beauty comes with understanding when it’s okay to allow elements of impulsivity, and when to shut it down. As is the case with all characteristics, each person experiences every trait to some degree. Some traits are more prevalent than others – so much so that you may not even know you have the trait until it makes its debut – and others are so obvious that you become known within your network for it. 

Throughout my career, I’ve met a variety of different CEO’s whom each have their unique management style. I’ve come across business leaders who make calculated decisions and ones who make spur of the moment decisions and put their trust in the universe. Both types have achieved success in their own way, and the manner in which they do business works for them. I am mostly fascinated by the more impulsive leaders because the perceived lack of future-planning or careful consideration would probably make my stomach turn. The critical denominator with the successful impulsive leaders that I’ve met is that they’re 100% committed to their vision and are inherently positive thinkers. Their company mission and purpose is so clear to them and their teams, that they trust their gut instinct enough when it sparks action. I agree that sometimes you need to go out on a whim, but what about when you’re responsible for a multi-million or a billion-dollar empire?

For me, the key thing about impulsivity is the propensity to risk-taking and how this can be advantageous to deliver on things differently. It is about finding a balance between control and planning versus impulsivity, that can determine massive amounts of success. I refer to this as a type of “controlled impulsivity”, where you know when it’s safe to be spontaneous, and when you need to take the time to consider your options a bit more. The main factor here is self-awareness and understanding the magnitude of the decision you’re facing. Controlled impulsivity is excellent when it comes to communicating with your team and gathering them together for an impromptu chat.

Another example is popping into team meetings unannounced to observe the dynamics and efficiency of meetings held, which are not in your presence. Something I highly recommend is connecting with clients without prior schedules to check in and see if they are still satisfied. One thing I’ve noticed too is that business leaders will often challenge existing ways of operating and try to find ways to enhance that, usually with a view of growing the business by 10x because it breaks current ways of thinking and behaving. Sometimes we need our world to be rattled up a bit and be placed in new situations, to learn and grow in real-time. 

Impulsivity should be observed and monitored when it comes to financial and procurement decisions, as well as anything which may have a long-term negative effect if it does not receive the attention it needs. You must also be mindful of the frequency of your controlled impulsive actions and how this may affect the dynamic in your team. Working on your self-awareness and being aware of the personalities and behaviours of the rest of your team will help you with finding the right balance here. Impulsivity doesn’t occur in a vacuum and therefore we need to have the right support around us to ensure the desired actions can be supported to achieve the right outcomes.