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Leaders and Anger - Part #2

Last week we discussed how anger is normal and to be expected. It’s even more common in our workplaces in this time of unusual stress and multiple cultural issues. It affects all of us, and it can’t help but show up in the workplace too. We discussed that anger can move us forward, stall us out, or completely destroy momentum and purpose. The leader is responsible for the direction anger goes. Great leaders use their anger to become greater leaders.

Far too often, leaders don’t think realistically about anger. They mistake their own anger for power and others’ fear for respect. The truth is that angry bosses are rarely effective. Venting and letting loose may feel pretty good to you in the moment, but the effect on the environment is very negative and really diminishes your respect from the team. A real leader rises above the momentary passions and chooses an appropriate response. Sometimes the appropriate response is to simply let the anger die. Sometimes you will do best to recognize tour anger and even the justification of it, but have the maturity to let it slide.

Or, you can do as the Bible says (James 1:19) and be truly slow to anger. This requires you to be firm, clear, and concise with your expectations. Document the incidents and conversations as they occur. If people continue to behave poorly, you can present them the documentation and remind them of what has happened before. If nothing improves, the situation can move on toward another form of resolution. But you have to be firm without losing your cool. Accept the fact that thinking leaders will be angry from time to time, and you are allowed to be angry. If nothing ever causes you to be angry, check your pulse. Something is wrong.

Make absolutely sure, however, that you don’t become passive-aggressive. Nothing is perfect, and leaders who never voice their thoughts do a great disservice to themselves as well as the team as a whole. Passive-aggressive leaders are almost worse than people with crazy tempers because they’re inauthentic and cowardly. Confronting problems is far better than trying to work around them and pretend.

Great leaders know they influence the emotions of others, so they learn to control their emotions and elevate their performance in crisis moments to help the people around them get beyond where they are in the moment and move on to a brighter future. People can be led by inspiration or manipulation, and great leaders always choose inspiration.

Sometimes, however, anger can be a useful emotion in leadership. Anger is not always harmful. Remember when you parents’ anger saved you from a harmful decision? Anger can be a strategy to move things forward. When Steve Jobs felt his team was becoming complacent, he would be very straightforward in expressing it, and some were offended. But the team members who were also passionate about their purpose respected him for calling them out.

Anger can lead us to focus. It can jolt us. When we have lost focus we get derailed, and the appropriate anger of people we respect can get us back on track. When passionate people are meeting and discussing, flashes of anger can actually bring creativity to the forefront. Debate will give birth to new and helpful ideas. But the truth is, the best people accept appropriate anger and take responsibility for their failings. The people who get offended and leave are generally the least committed and helpful. It will be good for you and the rest of the team that they leave.

Here are a few thoughts for wisely managing the appropriate anger that will help you and your team and organization:

  • Get angry slowly. Be patient. Watch your team and see what’s going on. You may get angry over the wrong thing if you’re not careful. Only get angry if things can’t be adjusted calmly. Change gears slowly. Don’t “fume”—don’t over-react to a simple mistake.

  • Feel your anger—don’t be afraid to feel it. Repressing anger doesn’t make it go away. If you stuff your anger, it can stick around for years making you physically ill and ruining relationships. Slow down, feel it, and take a few deep breaths. It will dissipate in intensity in a few minutes if you don’t act on it then.

  • Express your anger in appropriate ways. Speak directly without explanations or justification. “I feel angry because …” Say it without arrogance but plainly. Anything else is a waste of time.

  • Don’t get personal. Don’t make personal comments, snide remarks, or say anything demeaning. Simply say things in a firm but thoughtful manner that nudges them in the right direction.

  • Know how much to be angry and how long to be angry. Don’t spend $50 worth of anger on a $5 incident … or $5 worth of anger on a $.50 problem. It lowers respect and energy. Know when to stop being mad. Be just angry enough to make your point and ignite some action. If you go further than that, you will ruin the positive benefits.

  • Learn from your anger, don’t waste it. Blaming and debates to prove you are right will always be a massive waste of time and energy. You may be able to prove you are smart, but you won’t be appreciated. Don’t blame anyone. Ask yourself and others, “What can this situation teach me? Teach us?” It may be a call to set a boundary, to stop doing something that is no longer useful, change direction, face what is not being faced, say no … any number of things. But good can come from it.

It only takes a minute to explode in anger and ruin something wonderful. It takes a lifetime to master the skill of learning to use anger for everyone’s good, and it is certainly a skill worth learning. When you decide to manage your anger as a leader and not let it manage you, you will be miles down the road to success as a leader.

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