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From self-awareness to self-control: A powerful leadership technique

September 2, 2019 - 7 min read
From Self-Awareness to Self-Control: A Powerful Leadership Technique

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EQ is just one piece of the leadership puzzle

From self-awareness to self-control

Emotional intelligence is both a catchphrase and catch-all. It’s become a talking point at many companies trying to retain, engage, and support their best people as work represents more and more of our human experience.

How can we make people happier and more satisfied with their work so they can in turn do their best work for our organization?

It’s a question leaders have tried to address with learning and development programs, benefits, and team-building activities. In recent years, we’ve begun to slowly accept that people at work are still people and they need to be supported as such.

The term “emotional intelligence” was coined by psychologists in the 1990s and quickly became the “it” thing of leadership. The research pointed to the fact that to be better leaders, we needed to get in touch with our emotions. Leaders and HR managers thought they’d found the answer to their problems.

But our focus on emotional intelligence has dangerously downplayed the importance of the intentionality of great leadership.

EQ is just one piece of the leadership puzzle

The problem with EQ is that it only speaks to one part of the equation related to self-awareness and building empathy for others’ experiences. It’s a component of something much bigger. Something I call managing your own psychology.

In fact, we can shape and control our emotional reactions to events and become better leaders in the process.

What does managing your own psychology even mean?

Managing your own psychology fundamentally implies that you are in control.

Each of us lives in our own version of “reality,” — it’s a combination of what is actually happening to us and around us (objective) combined with our brain’s subjective interpretation of these events. We think that we can’t control “reality,” when actually, we can.
Managing your own psychology fundamentally implies that you are in control of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It’s a purpose-driven view that puts the power back in individuals’ hands, reminding them that they create meaning in their life and don’t simply have to accept their state of being.

Managing your own psychology = Mindfulness + Metacognition + Reframing

For years, psychologists have studied this phenomenon in clinical populations, but this same thinking can be applied to non-clinical populations.
Executive coaching has largely focused on one aspect of managing your own psychology — EQ — when it actually comes down to what I see as an interplay of at least three things:


Mindfulness is the acceptance that everything is a neutral stimulus. Nothing is inherently good or bad. It’s only our judgment or interpretation that makes an experience charged.


Metacognition gives us the awareness that our reactions are shaped by our own thinking, and we can act on them.


Reframing helps us manage our thoughts. By reframing our experience, we can check out our thinking to make sure we don’t engage in any cognitive distortions and/or thinking errors. This is a powerful technique that can help leaders take responsibility and truly begin to manage your own psychology.

Ultimately, mindfulness, metacognition, and reframing help us strengthen our Internal Locus of Control, a term that refers to the extent to which we feel that we have control over the events that influence our lives.

Individuals who possess a strong Internal Locus of Control: Individuals with an external locus of control:
Are more likely to take responsibility for their actions Blame outside forces for their circumstances
Tend to be less influenced by the opinions of other people Often credit luck or chance for any successes
Usually have a strong sense of self-efficacy Don’t believe that they can change their situation through their own efforts
Tend to work hard to achieve the things they want and often achieve greater success in the workplace Frequently feel hopeless or powerless in the face of difficult situations
Feel confident in the face of challenges Are more prone to experiencing learned helplessness

Notably, individuals with a strong Internal Locus of Control, tend to be physically healthier and report being happier and more independent.

From self-awareness to self-control

Our ability to control our reactions to situations is something we all possess.

By looking at leadership through the lens of managing your own psychology, you can become not only self-aware, but take control of your thoughts and emotions in order to become a better leader.
If we shift our thinking from being aware of our emotions to using them as tools, we unlock some powerful opportunities to be incredible leaders. These tools aren’t external, but they’re often hidden from our view as a result of our weak Internal Locus of Control.

Unlocking the tools within you

Our ability to control our reactions to situations is something we all possess, but few of us are able to effectively manage these internal forces (coaches are powerful allies in giving leaders the tools to master this skill).

By expanding our worldview to managing our own psychology, we’ll be able to fundamentally transform our leadership behaviors from within.

Many thanks to Dr. Jacinta Jiménez, BetterUp’s head of coaching for her scientific input and guidance.
Original art by Theo Payne.New call-to-action

Published September 2, 2019

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