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.