“When you react, you let others control you. When you respond, you are in control.” – Bodhi Sanders

When a duck swims away from danger, it still looks cool, calm and collected above the surface. However, below the surface, the duck uses its feet to furiously propel itself away from the source of danger as fast as possible – almost like an outboard motor. Earlier in my career when I was part of one particular executive team, we used to say: “Make like a duck.” That meant we needed to take charge of our emotions.

“Leadership is the ability to hide our panic from others.” – Lao Tzu

Rather EQ than IQ 

Emotional intelligence (EQ): Our capacity to be aware of, control and express our emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships sensibly and empathetically.

Never once in my entire working career did I ever come across anyone with an IQ so low that they could not be effective or add value in some area of the workplace. Yet, I have met numerous people – even senior people in organisations – with low EQ. Wherever they went, they caused controversy and friction. They were grown-ups, but for some reason, they acted like children who needed attention and embarrassed both themselves and others.

“It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Being in charge of our emotions is critical to our self-leadership success. A low EQ and successful self-leadership are like a prawn and custard milkshake – they just don’t gel. Not being able to control our emotions is a self-leadership dealbreaker. If we can’t keep our feelings under control, we will always battle to build relationships with anyone who could support our efforts to achieve our personal goals. The real test of whether we are in charge of our emotions is if, when we are furious and at the brink of losing control, we can dig so deep emotionally that we can always do or say what we have to, versus what we want to do or say.

The importance of consistency

When we are consistent, people around us learn to trust us.

For many years I worked for someone who was inconsistent. One day, he would act like a close friend, but then the next, I would have to deal with a confrontational person who was out to find fault with my work. People hate it when others are inconsistent. I have found that being consistent is more supportive of achieving the goals we set ourselves. It helps to create a more relaxed environment of trust in which the people around us support us in achieving them.

“Trust is built with consistency.” – Lincoln Chafee

When people are emotionally all over the place, they upset the environments in which they operate. Nobody knows from one day to the next whether they are getting Personality A or Personality B. That makes them feel uneasy. People then start avoiding such a person and could typically say: “I am not going into his office, because I don’t know in what mood he is in and what version of him I will encounter”. In such a scenario, growing or building relationships, teams and organisations is extremely difficult.

“Just smile and wave boys, smile and wave… ”

Someone once said: “If the right words can make you, the wrong words can break you.” It is critical that we speak or write the correct words, or not say anything at all. Sometimes the right thing to do is to guard our mouths and test to see if we can resist the temptation to say something.

Sarcasm is a perfect example here. 

SARCASM: The use of irony to mock or convey disrespect.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be associated with such a description.

So, why then are we sarcastic? Probably because we think it is funny, and that we can gain some popularity in the process. However, we do this without thinking what the person on the receiving end goes through. Our short-term need for emotional gratification should never influence the way that we interact with people. We need to understand that and to be an example of: We are what we speak.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

– Abraham Lincoln

As an African, one of my favourite computer-animated films is Madagascar. At some point in the movie, Skipper, the penguin, said to his fellow penguins: “Just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.” Sometimes, if we as self-leaders don’t have anything good to say or write about or to someone, then it is best not to say anything.

The link between inner peace and being in charge of your emotions

“Your inner peace is your outer foundation.” – Allan Rufus

If you had to ask me what I wish for, especially for those people close to me and for myself, it would be peace, continuous inner peace… That would be my choice if I were able to pick something that money couldn’t buy.

Anything that costs us our peace is too expensive. I have found that when my emotions control me, I lose my inner peace. If, on the other hand, I have control over my emotions, I find it much easier to reach a state of contentment and inner peace. Not being in charge of our emotions costs us much more in life than we could ever imagine: We hurt ourselves and we hurt others. If this is not enough of an incentive to continuously work on building a higher EQ, then nothing is.

Written by:

Hekkie van der Westhuizen, PhD

“If you are interested in the topic of Self-Leadership, please look out for my exciting new Self-Leadership book, launching in September 2021”

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