Restraint: A Key To Maximizing Leadership Success

I recently tweeted, “Being a great leader is not always about doing, it is also about restraint. Take the time to pause, consider thoughts and words, so that the way we express ourselves motivates and uplifts others.” I strongly believe in this statement.

Earlier in my career I worked for a boss who held weekly, in person, team meetings. I often found these meetings frustrating, as it seemed like everyone was talking over each other. As soon as someone took a breath, another person inserted his or her thoughts. There was never a quiet moment and not a lot of listening took place. This was not my style so I tended to be quiet in these meetings, and opted for 1×1 conversations outside of this venue.

One day I was in a 1×1 with this boss and he gave me some feedback. He said, that I needed to speak up more in the staff meetings. That even if I did not have something to add, that I needed to be heard in front of my peers. Since I am not in favor of talking unless its adding value, I ignored his advice. I believe in restraint.

Restraint = deliberate and mindful control over behavior in order to prevent an emotional reaction, or to limit or stop an action.

Fred’s Lack Of Restraint

Fast forward to present day. Recently, I was working with a peer who was not familiar with the concept of restraint. To protect this person’s privacy, I will refer to them as Fred.

My organization worked very closely with Fred’s organization. The people and processes in my department had a direct impact on his department, and vice versa. Therefore, collaboration and teamwork were critical to our overall success.

This leader, outside of his lack of restraint, was very competent. He had significant work experience, was smart, fast and high energy. He often had innovative ideas and a great sense of humor. However, Fred’s lack of restraint often overshadowed his competency.

Restraint, Key Trait Of Great Leaders

Several times a week, we both attended virtual meetings where the collective work outputs of both teams were discussed. It was common for meeting attendees  (i.e. coworkers) to instant message or text each other during these virtual meetings to ask questions or make comments. A practice that I used often and found helpful. Except, insert scary music, when I saw a message from this specific peer. 

Unfortunately Fred’s messages were usually harmful, not helpful.  As soon as he heard anything in a meeting that he did not like or agree with, Fred would immediately start messaging me. “This is not what we agreed to!” “I can’t believe this!!” “I don’t agree!”. 

If he did not get a response to an instant message, he would begin to send emails during the meeting with similar but longer commentary. And, other times, he would call me after the meetings ended and rant verbally over the phone.

He not only used this technique with me, but with many of his colleagues.  And, this behavior hurt many of his work relationships. His lack of restraint overshadowed his competency. 

Great leaders understand the power of restraint.

Leadership guru, Dan Rockwell, said it well in his blog post titled “Facing the challenge of restraint”. Per Dan, “Unrestrained leaders don’t help, they get in the way.” I agree!

  • Great leaders take the time to pause and breathe, before reacting.
  • Great leaders think about how and when they communicate, and do not take personal frustration out on others.
  • Great leaders understand that the way we express ourselves can motivate and uplift others- or have the opposite effect.
  • Great leaders understand the power of restraint.

© 2019, Marci Reynolds. All rights reserved.

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