Speaking when angry

Using your emotional volatility as a management tool is a bad strategy. Yet we know of managers and leaders who do precisely that; surprisingly, to some degree of success. It sure does get people’s attention.

But if throwing temper tantrums is their tool for exacting change, I wonder what they have to say about the successful leaders who never get angry. Honestly, anger can never be an invaluable tool for impacting change. And leaders who believe in this strategy should know that they’ve been bullshitting themselves all their lives!

The costs of getting angry far outweigh the temporary benefits and satisfaction one may derive from an outrage. Because when you’re mad, you’re out of control. And it’s hard to lead people when you’re out of control.

It’s also hard to predict how people will react to anger. Some may shut down as often as they get motivated. And then some may knock you out with the right hook! The point is that getting angry stifles the ability to change or inspire change. All it does gives these folks a reputation for ’emotional volatility that may take years to undo.

Let me tell you, nobody wants to work for a boss or a colleague with ‘temper’ issues—the plain suck as leaders despite what they think of themselves. The big question is, how the hell can anyone stop getting angry? It’s an emotion, after all, and even the calmest amongst us can lose it now and then.

Consider these simple concepts:

1. Know that it’s rarely someone else’s fault but yours. So, deal with it. I love this story from Marshall Goldsmith:

A Buddhist legend tells a young farmer paddling his boat upstream to deliver his produce to the village. As he looked ahead, he spied another vessel heading rapidly downstream, right towards him. He rowed furiously to get out of the way, to no avail. He yelled at the other boat, “Change the direction, you idiot!” It didn’t work. The vessel rammed into his with a loud thud. The young farmer was enraged and yelled out to the other boat, “You moron! You idiot! What is wrong with you?” No one responded, and the young man realized there was no one in the other boat.

The lesson? There won’t be anyone in the other boat. And when we get angry, we’re screaming at an empty vessel.

2. People are who they are. Don’t try to change them. Don’t even set expectations because they won’t meet them, resulting in a lot of stress that you can do without. Remember that stress occurs when your expectations don’t meet reality. Let people be.

3. Bite your tongue and breathe. I meant that literally. It works. Saying nothing gives us a chance to be better. As a leader, we can’t miss these chances for these are the moments when we can inspire real change.

And always remember this — when you’re angry, you’re out of control. And it’s hard to lead people when you’re out of control.

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