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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?