Uncontrolled Will


This is the third in a series of posts concerning bad attitudes that leaders can develop that hurt them and the building of their teams and the organization.

An uncontrolled will is a negative force that is rooted in a deep stubbornness and an attachment to personal (and immediate) gratification, mostly at the cost of developing others. Leaders with uncontrolled wills avoid committing to common values or ideals beyond their own. Rather than a stubborn will, we need a focused will that centers on development, goals and productivity.

In the 1960s a study was conducted with four-year-old children. In the experiment the children were each brought into a room, and on the table in front of them was a marshmallow treat. The facilitator explained that he or she must leave for a moment. During the absence, the child had the choice of either eating one marshmallow or waiting until the facilitator returned to get two marshmallows. As you can imagine, some of the children waited not even a few seconds before consuming the one marshmallow. There were no consequences; they were just not offered a second marshmallow. The other children used whatever means possible to delay their gratification until the facilitator returned so they would receive the additional marshmallow.

The study was completed 12 to 14 years later when these former four-year-olds were now seniors in high school. Researchers found a strong correlation between the children’s initial ability to delay gratification and how well they were functioning as young adults in society. Those who had been unable to delay their gratification as four-year-olds now had trouble functioning socially and emotionally; they tended to be easily frustrated, mistrustful of others, and temperamental. And they were still unable to delay their own gratification. Members of the group that had done whatever it took to wait for the additional treat were top performers, able to conduct themselves well in almost any setting. They had also retained their ability to delay gratification in order to achieve their goals.

Keeping our egos in check and our wills under control enables us to function much better as teammates and leaders. We’re able to more clearly see the needs of others as well as sacrifice our own views for better ones.


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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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