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Too Quick on the Draw: Reactive Leadership

As a leader who has experienced the pitfalls of being highly reactive, I understand the challenges and the journey towards better impulse control. Recently, an article I published on "Reactive Leadership" generated a lot of conversation with colleagues and clients.

The article was born from my personal experience and the recognition that emotional intelligence (EI) plays a crucial role in effective leadership. After years of working on my emotional intelligence, I am confident to share the journey so that other leaders and managers may understand and mitigate their reactive tendencies.

Understanding Reactivity in Leadership

Reactivity in leadership often stems from low impulse control, a component of EI. This was a revelation during my first significant emotional intelligence assessment (EQ-i 2.0). Although my overall assessment was within the leadership bar, my impulse control scored lower than the average population. This was a wake-up call.

The Challenges of Being a Reactive Leader

  • Immediate Reaction: Quick, unthought responses to situations, often driven by emotions.

  • Impulse Control: Difficulty in controlling urges to solve problems immediately.

  • Effect on Team Dynamics: Reactive leadership can lead to a dependent and less innovative team.

My Journey: Understanding and Improving Impulse Control

Improving impulse control is not an overnight process; it took me years of dedicated effort. The first step was acknowledging the issue. Accepting that my reactivity was a hindrance to effective leadership was crucial.

Steps to Overcome Reactivity

  1. Self-Reflection: Regularly reflecting on actions and decisions helps understand triggers and reactivity patterns.

  2. Seek Feedback: Constructive feedback from peers and team members can provide insights into how your reactivity impacts others.

  3. Professional Development: Engaging in emotional intelligence training and coaching was pivotal in my journey.

  4. Anger Management: Exploring my strong emotions and understanding that anger is nothing more than an evolutionary biological function telling me that a need was not being met,

Developing a Plan to Mitigate Reactivity

  1. Identify Triggers: The first step is to understand what situations or emotions trigger your reactivity. This could be stress, fear of failure, or even over-commitment to work.

  2. Implement Emotional Intelligence Strategies: Techniques such as mindfulness, deep breathing, and pausing before responding can help manage immediate reactions.

  3. Develop Empathy: Empathy helps understand others' perspectives, leading to more thoughtful responses.

  4. Create a Support System: Having a network of colleagues or mentors to discuss challenges can provide alternative viewpoints and reduce the urge to react impulsively.

  5. Continual Learning and Growth: Accept that improvement is a continuous journey. Celebrate small victories and learn from situations where reactivity took over.

Embracing the Journey

Over the years, my emotional intelligence has reflected the work put into improving my impulse control. However, there are still moments when I am triggered. Recognizing these moments and employing the strategies I’ve learned is part of my ongoing journey.

Understanding the root cause of reactivity and working towards improving emotional intelligence is a transformative process for any leader or manager. It's not just about reducing the immediate impulse to react; it's about developing a deeper understanding of oneself and fostering a leadership style that is more thoughtful, empathetic, and effective.


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