Managing Your Anger: Modify Your Perceptions

Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Like everyone, leaders’ beliefs, perceptions, feelings and behaviors are tightly integrated. Each strongly influences the others. That means that the leader with an anger problem must look beyond her anger to modify the other critical factors that are always present during a rage attack. Some thought or cluster of thoughts is always part of the anger cascade. The thoughts, or perceptions, that triggered the anger are often forgotten in the heat of the moment. And those perceptions are usually mistaken, selfish or small minded, opinions that no leader would be eager to admit to herself or others. This is why angry leaders rarely look into their motivations. They are afraid of what they will find.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

If you are not willing to identify and take full responsibility for the perceptions that played a key role in your temper tantrum, you will never make much headway in dealing with your anger problem. If you are open to facing up to the selfishness you will find, you can—with effort and practice—replace your selfish thoughts and perceptions with selfless ones. Those are the thoughts that servant leaders think. Servant leaders rarely become angry and almost never lose their tempers.

How can you do it?

  1. Be honest with yourself. Identify the thoughts that went through your head just before you erupted. Yes, you will have to face some unflattering aspects of yourself—your self-centeredness and your self-righteousness to name two.
  2. Ask yourself what a less selfish leader would think under the same circumstances. If you are too self-absorbed to figure this out on your own, ask a servant leader colleague how she might have reacted in a similar situation.
  3. Replace your flawed thoughts with more neutral perceptions. Then, replay the entire scene in your mind to see how much differently a less selfish leader would have reacted. When the next opportunity to become angry occurs, replace your distorted perceptions with more accurate ones. When you do, you will not become as angry. You may not become angry at all. This sounds simple, right? It is simple but not easy. But it works.

How have you identified and modified the thoughts and perceptions that contribute to your anger?

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