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Impulse Control Creates Better Leaders

In the 70's at Stanford University, Walter Mischel studied a group of four-year old children and conducted the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. Each of the children was given one marshmallow, but were promised two if they waited twenty minutes before eating the first marshmallow.

Some children were able to wait the twenty minutes, and some were not. Mischel then studied the children into adolescence and found that those children able to delay gratification were psychologically better-adjusted, more dependable, and better students. Bottom line: delaying gratification resulted in more success.

Good impulse control is considered a positive leadership characteristic and as psychologist Daniel Goleman indicates, an important component trait of emotional intelligence. Leaders are under much pressure to deliver results faster and often forsake greater future success because they choose today's immediate gratification.

We see this in leaders who hire a poor culture fit just because the person is strong in hard skills, rather than a good culture fit with the opportunity to develop the hard skills.

We see this in leaders who choose to complete a task themselves today instead of delegating it to a developing direct report because it gets done faster. We see this in leaders who fail to prepare a succession plan for their direct reports because it takes up too much time today and figure they'll just deal with it later.

Empowered leaders control the impulse of today's short cut and experience greater success tomorrow.


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