From Episode 60 of The Complete Leader Podcast.

Self-management might be one of the most difficult skills a leader has to develop.

The skill plays a significant role in a leader’s ability to lead themselves, especially as the challenges of leadership grow more unique and dynamic every day. But better leaders create more effective business results by multiples, and this is one skill leaders must truly master to optimize their leadership influence.

Self-management has two parts to its whole: how well you manage yourself, or self-control, and how well you focus on and execute around your leadership priorities. The development of these skills is best described as an upward spiral of growth—you’ll never really cross the finish line. While you can develop great capabilities in self-management, self-control, and time and priority management, they are all skills that require constant training and refinement.

In this two-part blog series, I’d like to share some practical tips to develop better self-control and time and priority management so that you too can continue climbing the spiral of growth as a complete leader.

How do you define self-control?

Self-control touches on the deepest part of who you are: understanding yourself and being intentional about how you lead yourself. Once you’ve developed this self-awareness, self-control is all about managing the space between stimulus and response.

A stimulus occurs when someone comes to you with a problem, a complaint, or a request for help. They have lit a fuse, so to speak, and created a need for you to respond to. The question is whether you manage that space between the stimulus and your response reactively—say, with an automatic or emotional off-the-cuff response—or with thought, analysis, and logic.

One of the fascinating things that I’ve noted throughout my career is that everyone has a different amount of space. Perhaps you’ve worked with a leader who always offers immediate responses—what I refer to as, “Ready, fire, fire, fire, aim.” Or maybe you’ve worked with someone who is the opposite, whose responses are more like, “Ready, aim, aim, aim, fire.” These are two very different amounts of space!

Self-control begins, then, by understanding the space you’ve been given and your natural tendency in how you manage that space. Then you can begin building the blocks to manage it more effectively and intentionally with responses based on your values rather than a simple reaction to the stimulus. For some people, the space is very small. You have to find ways to grow that space, either by listening intentionally or counting to 10 before you respond. Others may hold too much space, and when that happens you often can forfeit your leadership because people move on to find an answer elsewhere.

Developing this self-awareness and understanding of the space you hold will start the journey to better self-control. Then, you can follow these four practical steps to develop more self-control as a leader:

How do you develop more self-control?

Practice leading with logic. Think about whether you lead with emotion or logic. Self-control is always a combination of the two. For some, emotion will lead more often and vice versa. Those who lead with emotion and follow with logic are often more at risk of making a poor decision or taking an action they’ll later regret. But don’t quiet the emotion completely— it’s an important piece of leadership. Simply ensure emotion follows the correct order.

Take note of how you handle the space between stimulus and response. Keep track in a journal or on a notecard at the end of each day. Give yourself a score from one to 10 on how well you demonstrated self-control throughout the day, and even jot down an example of why you assigned that particular score. Be candid with yourself and watch your progress over time.

Ask yourself how you want to change the way you manage your space. Staying consistent with your daily scorecard will help you take note of progress and setbacks so that you can focus on new ideas and methods to try the next day. Do you need to practice offering more space before your response, or taking less?

Ask others to be your mirror. Find someone you trust who spends time with you throughout the day to give you feedback on a weekly or monthly basis on how you’re managing your self-control. They may even have ideas you had not thought of for how you can improve further.

Keep working on each of these practical tips to grow your self-control and self-management skills, and review your favorite resources again and again to continue making your way up the spiral of growth. Even today, I still see myself as a student, and I’ll often return to resources for the various skills I am working on. Do this, and each time you’ll pick up something different you missed the first time around.

Learn more about self-management at and in Part Two of this series on self-management.

Photo by Anna Tarazevich via Pexels.