Character Traits For Business Success: #4 – Unwavering Self Control

In a previous post, I wrote that qualities of character in the CEO were a more important indicator of business success than the business model. In this, and the next few posts, I’m going to share those character traits that I believe are most conducive to business success.

First, a disclaimer. This is one person’s point of view. This is not the result of some study that surveyed 10,000 business owners. Instead, it is the result of my personal, anecdotal experience. I’ve spoken to and with thousands of business executives in the US and other countries, and personally and contractually worked with over 459 of them. I have, I believe, achieved a breadth of experience in the world of business that, coupled with a touch of wisdom, has a validity of its own.

With that disclaimer behind us, let’s tackle the subject.

Previously, I argued for these character traits: An unquenchable work ethic, an ability, and propensity to learn and a continuous quest for MORE. To that list, I’m adding Unwavering self-control.

Specifically, that means that one exhibits the ability to control emotions and to moderate words and actions. It has both a positive and a negative element to it. Let’s unpack this.

When it comes to controlling emotions, it means that you don’t let a flash of negative emotions erupt and produce negative results. For example, one of your customers may make a disparaging remark about your company, or one of your employees is late for the third time this week. Your natural tendency is to get irritated and defensive and let that emotion out in a way that may damage the relationship permanently. That’s a lack of self-control. On the other hand, if you catch yourself, take a deep breath, and choose your words and your reaction mindfully, you are acting with self-control.

Not only do we need to control our negative emotions, but we need to proactively and intentionally spread positive emotions. The classic book, The One Minute Manager, builds the case for walking around, finding something that your employees are doing well, and praising them for it. In other words, intentionally and willfully developing the habit of praising specific actions and thereby spreading positive emotions.

But it’s not only our emotions that we need to control, it is how they express themselves via our words and actions. We all know that a careless word, spoken without thinking, can cause harm that lasts far beyond the moment. The business person who nurtures the character trait of self-control works at checking his/her words before he launches them out into the atmosphere.

The positive side of this is the practice of intentionally and mindfully speaking and writing positive words. The short praises mentioned above is one such example. The encouraging email and the sincere compliment are others.

So, the person who exhibits self-control has nurtured the habit of moderating his/her negative emotions and checking words and actions before they cause harm. On the other hand, the positive expression of this calls for the self-controlled person to proactively, intentionally and willfully engage in words and actions which disseminate positive emotions and productive actions.

That takes discipline. I often use this example in my seminars. I am a lap swimmer. Which means I get up in the morning, once or twice a week and swim laps. Now, imagine the middle of winter, in Michigan, my home state. At 6 AM it is dark, and cold. I have to drive to the pool through snow, slush, and wind. Next, I need to find a parking spot, slip and slide down the sidewalk, often with the snow dribbling down inside my shoes. Once there, I change into my suit, and then jump into a pool of very cool water, and engage, for the next 30 minutes, in the most boring exercise known to man.

It’s not fun, and I don’t like it. I have to fight with myself every morning to do it. But I do it. And I’ve done it for 30 years. Why? Because if I don’t my back will tighten up and I’ll be in pain for days. It’s a discipline. I do it because of the impact it has on me.

The self-controlled person builds these kinds of disciplines into their routines. They don’t do them because they feel good, they do them because they produce good results. So, you show up for work at 7:45 AM whether you want to or not. You are kind to your employees, courteous with your customers, respectful to your vendors whether you want to or not. You eat a healthy breakfast when you’d really rather have a big stack of pancakes. You have iced tea rather than a beer at lunch. You make those ten cold calls every day whether you feel like it or not.

I can go on and on with examples. The point is this: if you nurture the character trait of self-control, not only do you moderate your negative emotions, words, and actions, but you also build in disciplines that produce positive emotions, words, and results. Successful people build productive disciplines into their lives, their routines,  and their businesses, and adhere to them no matter what. That’s unwavering self-control.

It is interesting that this character trait has a Biblical endorsement. The apostle Peter wrote this: For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control…   (2 Peter 1: 5 & 6)

Self-control, then, is one of those character traits that define the successful business person. I don’t think you can be successful without it.


Dave Kahle
Dave Kahle
YOUR business can be much more than just a money-making enterprise. Helping you achieve that potential is Dave Kahle’s passion. He has been helping business grow for 30 years. The author of The Good Book on Business, he’s written 12 other books, which have been published in eight languages and distributed around the world, and has presented in 47 states and 11 countries. He has personally and contractually worked with over 459 companies, and touched thousands of others through his seminars, speaking engagements, and webinars. You’ll find him challenging your paradigms and prompting you to think more deeply.

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  1. First – I have those verses posted on my wall to remind myself that life is a process. What starts as a thought eventually becomes an act – so if I don’t like the thought to begin with, I surely don’t want it to become an act. (self-control) Several years ago, I went to a seminar and the speakers used a quote that was totally based on 1Peter 1:5-6 I wondered if they knew the roots of what they were talking about was originally from the Bible. That makes it absolute truth.

  2. I have struggled for the past decade with a conflict between self-control (discipline) and inner flow (doing things because I want to, rather than forcing myself to do things I know are good for me). My shrink used to encourage me to cultivate a frame of mind in which good habits flow from my natural state, rather than from relying on the tyrannical “should.” It’s been an uphill battle. But I haven’t given up. Your way, Dennis, may be my last resort — I’ll give it another five years. I’ve gotten better at maintaining my composure when someone annoys the living piss out of me, but I’ll probably need another five years on that score, too. But thanks for the tips and encouragement.

  3. Most of us have worked for one or more bosses that didn’t have self control. They could go from smiley to a raging bull in the blink of an eye. Few things are more effective at keeping a work force off balance and engaged. Bottom line is, if you can’t control yourself, how do you expect to have any control over others?

    • Well put, Ken. Unfortunately, most of us can relate. Those kind of bosses have popped up in almost everyone’s life at one time or another.