The Australian

The four mindsets – how to lead without losing it

“The key to happiness is intentional activity.”

What do we need to do to increase our self-control?

Daniel Goleman in Working with Emotional Intelligence defines self-control as “managing disruptive emotions and impulses”. This requires that we, as Goleman says, manage [our] impulsive feelings and distressing emotions; stay composed, positive and unflappable, even in trying moments; and think clearly and stay focused under pressure. Achieving this requires discipline, the mental strength not to be sidetracked, the ability to override the daily speed bumps we encounter and to stay focused on the end game. Our research shows that those with a high level of self-control tend to exhibit the following qualities:


Perspective can be defined as a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something. People who lack self-control can find it difficult to “put things into perspective”. Typically, they find themselves exaggerating problems and situations. When this happens, it usually signals that they feel helpless and cannot achieve the result they want. This causes them to lose control of their emotions, which usually sets off a vicious circle. Those with a balanced perspective apply a disciplined approach, removing emotion from the mix, analysing situations and deciding what they can control and influence and what they cannot.

Let’s look at a well-known model, the Circle of Concern/Circle of Influence, as outlined in Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s model identifies two components — things that I have control over (Circle of Concern); and things I do not have control over (Circle of Influence). For example, you can influence your family, co-workers, clients, team and so on. You cannot control what they do but, depending on your skills, you can influence them. Anything outside of these two circles is not within your control and influence, so you should not waste time and energy trying to control it.

Ability to reframe

Again, those who score highest in this area are able to find a positive in a negative situation. This “reframing” allows us to revise our views on any number of events and situations. For example, a client rejects a proposal you submitted. On reflection, however, you realise it was a low-value proposal that would take up a lot of your time, whereas now you can spend time looking for more valuable clients.

What’s in it for me?

Think through how a situation could get worse for you, your team or a team member if you don’t react in a reasonable way. Often taking the time to reflect on the possible outcomes of a situation can help you maintain your self-control.


A person exercising self-control often tries to give the benefit of the doubt. People do and say the strangest things — sometimes you just don’t know what is going on in someone’s head. When a person responds in way that is not usual for them, think to yourself, “Something must be going on for this person to behave this way”. Don’t immediately think this is a personal attitude.

Prepare ahead

It takes a degree of skill to get into the right mindset and one of the best things you can do is prepare ahead of time. You often know there is a strong likelihood that someone will push your buttons so thinking through how you manage your response will serve you well. You can also manage your feelings by biding your time before responding. Take a sip of water, for example, or ask a question. This measured response will help you retain your composure. The key is to distance yourself from the emotion, plan your response and not get drawn in.


Resilience is about being able to bounce back from hard times or challenging situations. Self-control and resilience are closely correlated. That is to say, how you manage your emotions will directly influence how resilient you are — or become. The more resilient you are, the better you will be at coping and at self-management. In addition, the more resilient you are, the more resilient your team will become, as your ability to weather storms and cope in tough times will directly influence the same capacities in your people. Remember, attitudes are contagious!

Managers who demonstrate resilience typically:

? believe in what they do and why they do it

? understand that everything is down to them — they don’t rely on others for their sense of self-worth or self-esteem

? have realistic expectations of themselves and of others

? are dedicated to health and wellbeing

? are level-headed problem solvers and good decision makers

? recover from setbacks quickly

? manage their stresses privately

? know what would undo them and focus on ensuring that it does not happen

? know their limits and do not attempt to exceed them

? approach people and situations flexibly

Managers who lack a resilient mindset typically:

? are prone to emotional outbursts

? can have dependencies

? can suffer stress-related ailments

? think in the short term rather than the long term

? are inward focused

? are not doing the job that is most suitable for them

? adopt a victim mentality

Resilient people use the following ways to develop endurance.

They simplify their lives: They know what has the greatest value to them in life. They remove both physical and psychological clutter and confusion. And they understand what’s really important, what their needs are and what their priorities are. This removes or reduces emotional distractions, fears and stumbling blocks.

They lighten up. They do things that encourage them to take life less seriously. They find their inner child and encourage “play”, and they make time to spoil themselves with small treats.

They take command of their life: They take control of their thoughts, intentions, actions and deeds, recognising they do have choices. They develop healthy and positive thoughts. They are grateful for what they have and do not focus on what they don’t have. They work to maintain their health. They stay true to themselves: Stress signifies a lack of harmony between you and what is happening in your life. The first way to reduce stress and anxiety levels is to ensure the job you have matches who you are as a person and the goals or purpose you have set yourself.

They understand what happiness is and isn’t: Happiness was traditionally promoted in western cultures as something that must be “found” or something that comes to us when we change our circumstances. It has been demonstrated that achieving such objectives does not in itself generate long-term happiness.

Positive psychology indicates that the key to happiness is intentional activity. Happiness is not out there to find — it’s inside us. Research suggests that a person’s propensity for happiness is determined 50 per cent genetically, 10 per cent through circumstances and 40 per cent through intentional activity.

The Four Mindsets: How to influence, motivate and lead high-performance teams, by Anna-Lucia Mackay (Wiley)

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