Managing Your Anger: Identify Your Core Beliefs about Yourself

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Human feelings, including anger, are complicated. They appear to arise from certain core beliefs or convictions people hold about themselves. However these core beliefs arise, they are hard to recognize because they have been buried under layers of psychological defenses, feelings and thoughts. And they have been reinforced countless times by behaviors that buttress them. The big three core beliefs that give rise to anger are, “I am helpless, I am hopeless,” or “I am worthless.” Predictably, angry people are strongly disinclined to admit this. Just suggest such a possibility and watch how angry they become.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

If your deepest convictions about yourself are the origins of how you feel, think and behave, their importance is obvious—if you want to change how you think, feel and behave. If anger is a problem in your life and you intend to diminish the power it wields over you, identifying its source deserves your sustained attention.

How can you do it?

  1. Accept the premise that your anger comes from within you. It’s not in the water or the food or the air. Are you going to keep on insisting that your anger is not your problem? Are you going to continue to permit it to hold you hostage?
  2. Work backwards. In the moments before your last angry outburst, you experienced certain thoughts and feelings. What were they? These are not easy to recall because they were quickly incinerated by your blind rage.
  3. Get some help. Most leaders with an anger problem cannot figure this complicated stuff out by themselves. Most leaders with an anger problem don’t believe they have a problem. This, naturally, makes figuring out the problem even harder.

What core beliefs give rise to your anger? How did you acquire that insight?

Managing Your Anger: Reflect

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Anger discourages reflection. It is an instinctual reaction that feeds on itself, is impervious to reason and entirely self-serving. When the leader’s passion has finally ebbed, the last thing that leader is inclined to do is reflect. What the typical leader wants to do is rationalize and put the whole humiliating episode behind her as quickly as possible. The flawed leader’s need for suppression is the final instinctive step in the destructive rage cascade.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

If you are not willing to reflect on how and why you reacted the way you did, you cannot hope to improve. If you conclude that you were justified in becoming angry and behaving poorly, you are deciding to become just another mediocre leader. You can look forward to a career that will be much less successful and satisfying than it might have been. If you are willing to reflect and learn and change, you can improve as a leader and lead a less stressful life. But you will have to invest some serious time and energy.

How can you do it?

  1. Identify the trigger. Write down exactly what happened, who said and did what. Describe the emotional context and contributing factors including your fatigue, preoccupations or distractions.
  2. Clarify the core beliefs that triggered your thoughts, feelings and reactions. This may take a good bit of work. Most such foundational beliefs are only partially conscious.
  3. Identify what you were thinking and exactly how you felt. Our beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviors are tightly integrated, and we can change all of them to some degree. This realization is not widely appreciated, and the effort required is more than most leaders are willing to invest.

How have you reflected on and learned from your decision to become angry?

Managing Your Anger: Admit that Angry Behavior is a Leadership Failure

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

When leaders permit themselves to become angry, their anger strongly compels them to act in misguided ways. They are inclined to say and do things they would not otherwise do. But having once surrendered to their angry impulses, they then focus their remaining mental energy on defending their actions. This is to be expected. Admitting that their angry behavior was an example of leadership failure goes against the grain. The failure is embarrassing enough; admitting their weakness is more than most weak leaders can muster.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

When you speak or act based on your rage, everyone but you knows you have failed as a leader. When you attempt to justify your behavior, you only dig the hole deeper. The sooner you admit what is obvious to everyone else, the sooner you can regain some of the credibility you have lost. But mere apologies are not enough. Those you hope to lead must see that you have learned from your failure to manage your anger and that you mean to do better.

How can you do it?

  1. Admit the obvious. You allowed yourself to become angry. You gave into your angry impulses and behaved badly. Do this as soon as possible.
  2. Apologize sincerely. Admit that if people don’t see you follow through with a genuine effort to behave more maturely in the future, they will come to view your confessions as just another ploy for letting yourself off the hook.
  3. Resist the temptation to defend your actions. Instead, carefully explain how a more mature leader would have responded in the same circumstance. Ask your colleagues to hold you accountable if you fall into a similar emotional rut in the future.

How have you persuaded your colleagues that enraged behavior is a leadership failure?

Managing Your Anger: View Anger as a Leadership Flaw

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

People feel entitled to their anger, leaders particularly so. Leaders have watched their superiors and mentors throw temper tantrums in the workplace when things haven’t gone their way, and they have seen them get away with it. Perversely, bosses are often lionized for behaving badly because of the mistaken notion that expressed anger is an effective tool for motivating one’s underlings.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

You know better than that. You remember how it felt when you were victimized by your leader’s temper. You probably told yourself at the time that if you ever became a leader you would not behave that way. You understand that people produce their best results in an atmosphere of mutual respect, fairness and emotional predictability. You cannot sustain a culture of teamwork and high expectations if you allow your anger to highjack your judgment and behavior.

How can you do it?

  1. Admit it. Make it clear to everyone that raw anger is never helpful in the workplace. Admit that you are human and that you may become angry now and then, but emphasize that you, no one else, will be at fault. Ask for others’ tolerance and understanding of your leadership failure.
  2. Instead of apologizing, change. Allowing yourself to become angry on a regular basis and then begging forgiveness won’t work. You have observed many leaders who think that repeated apologies wipe the slate clean. People see this ploy for exactly what it is—a way to avoid taking responsibility for one’s behavior.
  3. Confront anger immediately whenever it erupts. Expose it as the emotional weakness it is. Create and preserve an anger-free zone in your workplace.

How have you reframed anger as a leadership flaw?

Managing Your Anger: Take Personal Responsibility for Your Anger

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

“He (or she) made me angry.” Some variation of this statement in which someone else is to blame for the way the leader has chosen to feel or react is probably used as an excuse in every workplace in the world every day. Those leaders who fall into this trap not only do not see their mistaken conclusion, they also give the problem and its solution to someone else. They make this mistake because they have watched other leaders do it and they have imitated those leadership failures so frequently that they never considered the flawed logic involved.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

If your anger is not your problem, you can’t fix it. You have made yourself a pawn instead of player. If someone in your work environment can “make” you angry at their whim, they are leading and you are following. Most angry leaders have never considered this. When they do, it is usually an “ah ha” leadership moment.

How can you do it?

  1. Take public responsibility for your anger. Tell everyone you know that you have recently acquired a stunning leadership insight from reading the SOMC Leadership Blog.
  2. Explain why this is true. Most people don’t get this. Even when you explain it, most of your colleagues will continue to blame others for the way they feel. But the point is to convince you, not them.
  3. Write it down. “My anger is my problem.” Post this simple truth in a conspicuous spot where you and others will see it every day. Insight is not the same as behavioral change, but it is an important first step.

How have you taken personal responsibility for your anger?

Managing Your Anger: Recognize Your Anger

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

When leaders are confronted about their anger, their most common response is, “I’m not angry.” This dismissive conviction is usually pronounced in an angry tone. Listeners are both amused and dumbfounded. How could a smart person be so clueless? Any instinctual response when indulged in regularly becomes normal. Emotional habits are habits just the same. And leaders who feel they have every right to become angry when they are thwarted or annoyed don’t view their anger as anything abnormal. Not seeing the problem is their problem.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

You cannot manage what you do not recognize. As a leader, you have hopefully matured to the point that you realize you still have some shortcomings you have not yet recognized. Reflect on whether you have redefined anger as so extreme an emotional state that you seldom if ever reach that level of arousal. This realization will help you see that becoming annoyed, irritated or aggravated are just anger in its milder forms.

How can you do it?

  1. Assume you have a problem with anger. Anger is one of the universal human emotions. You may become angry less often or less intensely angry when you do, but the odds that you never become angry are pretty slim. It is more likely that you just don’t realize you are angry when you are.
  2. Ask your colleagues to inform you when you appear to be angry. While it’s true that their perceptions may be inaccurate, their perceptions are their reality. Your colleagues are almost always better judges of how you are coming across to others than you are.
  3. Pay attention to your physiological arousal. Watch for your breathing to increase and your heart to start racing.
  4. Note your mental arousal. You may feel the need to interrupt, raise your voice or talk over others. You may find your thoughts racing or realize you are repeating your point needlessly.

How have you learned to recognize your own anger?

Managing Your Anger: Introduction

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Leaders recognize that anger is a problem in the workplace. They recognize that it makes others uncomfortable, distorts perceptions, and triggers impulsive behavior. Anger decreases innovation and risk taking. When anger fuels tantrums, those bullied by their immature coworkers and superiors never quite recover. They walk on eggshells from then on always fearful of another outburst. And if no consequence is attached to those angry outbursts, these hissy fits will continue and increase.

But most leaders view their own anger as a different matter. Others become angry for no reason. Their anger is justified. Others’ outbursts are signs of emotional immaturity; their anger is a reflection of their commitment to organizational excellence, an understandable reaction to others’ shortcomings. Their anger and subsequent outbursts motivate others to pay closer attention, to strive harder to do their best. Leaders are expected to get angry when things don’t go their way. And their subordinates are supposed to take it. After all, this is the way great leaders behave. This attitude, while widespread, is nonsense.

In this blog series, I will take a position that may make you uncomfortable. I will make the case that a leader’s anger is never justified and always represents a leadership flaw. Anger is a sign of emotional immaturity. And it is always the leader’s fault. Leaders are human and anger is a common emotion, but learning to manage it is a critical leadership responsibility and skill.

Your anger is under your control. You can learn to become less angry less often. You can learn to remain calm, detached and curious instead. When you fail and become angry, you can learn to recognize your impairment and keep quiet and restrained until your self-generated outrage subsides. The blog posts that follow will explain exactly what to do. It is not easy to manage your anger, but easy is not what leadership is about. You will learn faster if you participate in the conversation and if you practice the following recommended strategies every time you choose to become outraged.

Mistakes New Leaders Make: Only Fixing What Is Broken

Justin Clark, MBA

This twelve week series is a collection of my personal experiences as a new leader over the past three years. These are not only mistakes that I have made, but that I continue to make at times. I hope that by sharing my experiences, readers will be able to navigate their role as a leader more skillfully. 

What are the barriers to doing this?

Don’t we all have enough things that we are trying to manage? Certainly we all have Enough problems and opportunities without trying to fix processes that aren’t even really “broken” yet? There just simply doesn’t seem to be enough time most days to do what we’d like to do because we are busy doing the things that we have to do. Furthermore, many of us, don’t even have a mechanism for identifying minor tweaks that could improve our existing processes. This mentality is more of an optimization mindset that isn’t natural for many of us.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

In a competitive landscape that is constantly changing, being dynamic and willing to constantly evaluate our processes before they’re “broken” is vital to being successful. It is roughly analogous to a software update for your mobile device or tablet. Usually, each version of the software for your device will receive numerous updates before a full overhaul is required. These updates keep the device moving forward for a period of time so that its functionality isn’t passed up by other competitors while waiting for a full overhaul. As leaders, I would argue that we need to constantly be thinking about how we can improve our processes to make sure that we are keeping up with the changes in our competitive environments. Many times those improvements are tweaks or updates, not full overhauls of the process.

How can you do it?

1.  Think in terms of processes and outcomes.

2. Don’t fall in love with your process – the best idea should always win.

3. Be intentional about evaluating your processes.

4. Identify potential improvements and execute updates to your processes.

5. Monitor and evaluate your new outcomes.

What tools do you use to evaluate existing processes for improvement?

Mistakes New Leaders Make: Explaining Things Away

 

Justin Clark, MBA

This twelve week series is a collection of my personal experiences as a new leader over the past three years. These are not only mistakes that I have made, but that I continue to make at times. I hope that by sharing my experiences, readers will be able to navigate their role as a leader more skillfully. 

What are the barriers to doing this?

We have all been there — at the end of the day trying to figure out how such a great plan didn’t produce the right result. The easy thing to do is to begin to explain how things went awry. If only this had happened! If someone else had just done their part! The list of reasons is as long as our sensibilities will allow. After all, we had a good plan. A plan that should have worked. It is easy to defend our plans when we achieve an undesirable result. We want to be judged by our intentions, not our actions.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

However, the results we achieve are how we will be judged. If we continue to defend our well-intended plans in the face of bad results, people will perceive us to be blame shifters. Leaders who want to hide behind our intentions and not our outcomes. As a leader, we are owners of our outcomes. Publicly embracing that ownership in the face of failure, as well as success, will show our colleagues that we desire to be held accountable. It will establish a level of trust and dependability that is unattainable if we continually try to explain things away.

How can you do it?

1.  Acknowledge when your process is not successful.

2. Take ownership of that result.

3. Develop a plan to remedy the undesirable outcome.

4. Communicate the new plan with the affected parties. 

5. Execute the new plan.

Why do you think it is important for a leader to own their failures?

Mistakes New Leaders Make: Not Having a Plan

Justin Clark, MBA

This twelve week series is a collection of my personal experiences as a new leader over the past three years. These are not only mistakes that I have made, but that I continue to make at times. I hope that by sharing my experiences, readers will be able to navigate their role as a leader more skillfully. 

What are the barriers to doing this?

When I talk about a plan, I mean a method or approach to how you are going to capture your tasks, execute them and close the loop with stakeholders. This concept is very often simple, but overlooked. How are we going to make sure that we follow up on every single task in timely manner? For me, I made the mistake of not thinking this through in enough detail before I started my current job. I deployed a mixed bag of techniques to try and capture all of my tasks and prioritize my work. Not having a consistent method lead to results that resembled my different methods; some were better than others. I certainly had room for improvement.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

In a professional environment that is constantly calling on leaders to be more innovative than ever with how we manage our time and resources, we can’t be so stubborn that we don’t develop our own individual systems for organizing and prioritizing our work. Whether we carry a note card or use an more technologically advanced system, we should be prudent enough to think through how we as individuals are going to manage the complete cycle of our day to day work. This will ensure that we are maximizing our productivity and getting the most out of our time while at work.

How can you do it?

1.  Assess your strengths and weaknesses as a leader.

2.  Determine how you can use your strengths to best hard wire your own personal process.

3. Develop your process for capturing work and closing the loop.

4. Execute your process. 

5. Evaluate your results to identify any potential process improvements.

What methods do you use as a leader to capture and prioritize your work?