A leader not only needs to be a good listener, but even more importantly, they need to be a good responder. There are many times when you only have a moment to determine what you are going to say. It’s likely you don’t respond well every single time. We are all human, after all, and we all make mistakes and say things we wish we hadn’t.
That doesn’t mean we can’t reflect and improve by examining the times we responded well and the times we didn’t.
Paddling Through Choppy Waters
My brother and I recently started sea kayaking together on the Chesapeake Bay, off the coast of Maryland. One beautiful, sunny day, we set off for Huggins Point and crossed the mouth of Brenton Bay for a two- to three-hour paddle with minor winds and waves.
We headed downwind, enjoying the wind at our backs. However, after about an hour, the winds picked up to 8-12 miles per hour. The waves were increasing to two to three feet, so we determined that we needed to turn around and head home.
As we carefully turned around, it was exhilarating to have the waves come over the bows of our 18’ long kayaks. Water splashed into our faces as we paddled through. Each paddle became more challenging and the direction we were steering suddenly became far more important. We had to study the waves quickly, then respond accordingly if our efforts were to be successful. Taking a wave too much on our sides meant it would try to turn us over. So, we attempted to stay as perpendicular to the waves as we could, while still steering for home.
Despite the added effort and focus our journey required, we responded well to each wave and made it home safely to the sandy Maryland shore.
Two Keys to Better Responses
Later, I reflected on my time on the bay and how Dave and I needed to strategically navigate the waves. I realized that a leader’s response should, likewise, not be taken lightly. Our responses define who we are, not only to those we directly respond to but also to those witnessing our conversations.
Remember how important your responses are. Become more intentional about how you respond, and it will help ensure you communicate and influence well. This is a similar idea to the term “self-regulation.” Self-regulation is when you possess the capability to understand and control your behavior and your reactions to your feelings and various events as they unfold around you.
Marlene Chism stated in her SmartBrief article about self-regulation, “Self-regulation is part of the ‘inner game’ of leadership that helps you shift from automatic reaction to intentional response.” She goes on to write that both emotional integrity and cognitive restructuring are key to achieving self-regulation.
- Emotional integrity is, “the ability to be 100% honest with oneself” according to a 2014 Forbes article written by Rajeev Peshawaria. This allows emotional intelligence to be authentic and lasting. Not only do you begin to know your own thoughts all the time but also those of the people you interact with.
- Cognitive restructuring means having the ability to change the way you think, so when you do respond, you do it in a way you intended.
“It’s not the situation, but whether we react, or respond, to the situation that’s important.” – Zig Ziglar, author, salesman, and motivational speaker
A Point of Reflection
At one point, responding seemed like an innate activity to me. But, there is so much more to it. What can you gain from this experience and knowledge? How have you responded in the different settings you lead within, including your work, home, or community?
I’m willing to bet you responded well in some instances and not as well in others. Maybe there were times when you simply followed your gut. Take a moment to reflect on a couple of specific interactions. Did you respond well? Did you use self-regulation? Are there ways you can use this information in future conversations to achieve better results?
Keep at it! You will get better as you put in effort and focus, just like my brother and I did while paddling our kayaks through the waves.
Does your team need assistance growing its leaders to be better at responding and becoming self-regulators? The Fired-Up Team is made up of experienced leaders with hearts to help others grow through one-on-one coaching. Connect with us today!
Paul is part of a dynamic team of passionate change agents who are dedicated to partnering with organizational executives to create cultures that inspire, engage and ignite the best in people. Our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams and align operation practices to delighting the customer and drive breakthrough results.