Why impulse control—not following your gut—is a CEO’s secret weapon

Leaders are glorified for trusting their intestine and making on-the-spot selections, however in my expertise that’s the straightforward a part of the job. Controlling impulses is way more difficult, and sometimes extra helpful. For leaders who’re pushing to get issues accomplished as effectively as attainable, this pressure between velocity and taking a second to replicate feels contradictory. However the function of a chief is to information, handle, and leverage individuals to drive outcomes. And that’s the place impulse management could make or break the way you steer a company. 

That is significantly true with regards to battle. It’s straightforward to search out fault with a colleague or a buyer after they appear discourteous or problem your mind-set. It’s a lot more durable to take a step again and contemplate why a comment bothered you or to grasp the motivation behind it.

I discovered this early in my profession when coping with a explicit VP of engineering. He would often fireplace off emails that appeared to criticize my group or the work we had been doing. I usually replied with equally abrupt emails that made me really feel infinitely higher within the second however did nothing to resolve the strain between us.


Lastly, I invited him to lunch. I discovered that the engineer had grown up within the Center East, in a tradition and time very completely different from my very own upbringing in India. After incomes his PhD in literature and turning into a professor, the revolution compelled him to flee to the US. There have been few jobs right here for professors of Center Jap literature, and he rebuilt his life and profession from scratch. That context made me way more affected person and interested by our interactions.

Get to the guts of the issue

When a skilled relationship is frayed, I’ve discovered it’s actually because I didn’t choose up the cellphone or meet with somebody in individual. That is much more of a hazard within the present work atmosphere. Instruments like Slack and WhatsApp make it straightforward to detach the individual from the message. By the point you pause to replicate on how the strain escalated, the injury is completed—and it’s very onerous to unwind.

In these conditions, I attempt to perceive the intent behind the battle. Normally, it stems from one among three issues:

  • I misunderstood the opposite individual. As an alternative of leaping to a conclusion, I’m higher served by first asking extra questions and clarifying the state of affairs.
  • The opposite individual is venting and must decompress. All I must do is hear and let the second cross. 
  • The disagreement is symptomatic of a bigger downside that wants my consideration or downside fixing; it’s not the issue itself.

In every state of affairs, I’m higher served by pausing. That’s simpler stated than accomplished, and at occasions I make myself rise up and stroll away from the keyboard to replicate. Nevertheless it’s value it. Taking the time, sleeping on one thing and returning to it once I’ve had time to assume is invariably extra productive. Even higher is once I can meet nose to nose over espresso or lunch (or nowadays, over Zoom).  

How impulse management saved a important deal

This strategy has served me nicely now that I’m a CEO. I used to be just lately discussing a main deal enlargement with the CIO of a massive buyer. This individual was usually very amicable, however on this event he was pushing onerous for unreasonable phrases and I used to be inclined to push again. As an alternative, I took a breath and enquired amongst colleagues about the place this aggression was coming from.

It seems that this CIO’s firm had just lately been hit by a ransomware assault, its providers had been disrupted and its clients had been sad. Strain was mounting on all sides, and if I had adopted my impulse I might have pushed again on the actual flawed second, which might very simply have price us this important piece of enterprise. As an alternative, I had the context to be a higher associate and will supply to assist them navigate the disaster.

Impulse management doesn’t solely assist with relationships. The standard of labor itself is healthier on the opposite facet. Battle disrupts the regular state. Pausing let’s you assess and dissect the place you might be, then re-engage and elevate the work and relationship past the place it was earlier than the incident. 


As we transfer into this new section of labor, the place extra colleagues are distant and fewer conferences with companions and clients are face-to-face, impulse management solely turns into extra essential. On-line communication is fast-paced and infamous for fueling miscommunication. Taking the time to grasp intent and be charitable in our interpretation of what others are saying can be central to sustaining productive and constructive relationships. As leaders, it’s incumbent on all of us to mannequin this conduct.

Sudheesh Nair is CEO of ThoughtSpot, a enterprise intelligence firm that has constructed an intuitive Google-like interface for knowledge analytics. He’s dedicated to constructing instruments that democratize knowledge entry and be certain that each worker can leverage its advantages.