Can A Leader’s Anger Help Business?
You could fill a whole wall in biggest office with clever sayings about anger…
“Anger turned inward is depression,” “He who angers you defeats you,” “Anger is just one letter short of danger” …and it goes on, but perhaps the most pertinent lesson for business would have started back when your first rages hit: “Don’t teach your children not to be angry, teach them how to be angry.”
Of course it would be silly to suppose anger could be removed from one’s work experience so it is about how you experience it, process it, channel it and express it. The most common advice, not to react in anger, wait 15 minutes is a fair start, especially if you are an expressive or emotional person. That’s not to say that using the emotion of anger can’t be productive and motivating. Though dangerous, a controlled flame of anger can light a fire in others…so you might get a rocket launch…or you might end up with a wild fire that is hard to control and will leave scorched earth.
Let’s take 3 typical flash points and see if anger can be a positive action driver:
1) VENDOR ANGER can often be the strongest and most difficult to control. Typically, you have paid or agreed to something and, in your mind, it was subverted, incompetently handled, dishonest or any number of triggers and you are “entitled” as a customer to your emotion. While you can pick up the phone right away and give a piece of your mind, even mask the anger, the most common expression today is to avoid the effect of your anger directly and send an email. When I would get angry in my corporate executive days I would write an email, save it as a draft, and when the steam cleared my ears I would re-read and edit, soften and shorten and finally send what I thought would be a concise recap of the problem with enough hints and disappointment that I would get a coordinated response aiming to fix whatever it was.
The reality is that email is a poor choice to express anger, think of your reaction if you ever read how the troll’s react in Internet comments. Hiding behind text leaves interpretation and risks the reader deciding why you are angry for themselves. Might you also be wrong in any part, or perhaps overreacting, you have created a permanent impression and text record that can be passed along and spun against you. An email reply can work but it must be simple, state the concern and note the need to discuss without an elaborate dissertation. (I learned that a couple of times the hard way.)
The preferred tactic here would be to review internally first, see the vendor’s point of view, leave open the possibility of something you aren’t aware of, no matter how obvious the offense seems to be, get consensus and then make a phone call. State the anger without expressing emotion…”Bill, I was just reviewing the delivery [invoice, quote, etc.) and I have to tell you my first reaction was a bit angry. Can we review what I had expected and what I thought was agreed and perhaps there’s something going on here I wasn’t aware of?….” This sets up that there is emotion to reckon with but by not displaying it you may prevent the vendor emotionally defending, pointing blame or dismissing the reaction. Your calm conversation thus allows you to talk about remedies or the state of relationship going forward. End the conversation with a recap of what drove the call, the explanation, any agreed remedy and conclude with your appreciation, even if you have decided it is the last time you will do business. You’ll likely feel better than if you had just blurted out your anger or tried to manipulate it into the perfect email.
2) EMPLOYEE ANGER is probably the most intense because your expectations are the most defined in your mind. You also likely have the most options and recourse but the consequences are also highest. A vendor might accept getting yelled at by a customer as part of the job and move on but an employee can have their confidence shaken, their self worth doubted or, if they disagree, set up a bitterness for being the object of your anger at work.
Trying to get to the bottom of it, see if your emotion was warranted, gives discussions with a small flame in the background–that can quickly ignite if met with equal anger or indignation or redirected blame. Make it a shout off and you will likely end up with everyone mad, resolved and a destiny to repeat. The format for concern here is to start looking for facts. If they justify your anger you describe how and why you feel angry but do not do it with direct expression. You have to leave the employee room to explain and react and perhaps take responsibility. Believe me, that you are angry will be easily obvious but by not expressing it directly, yelling, pouting, slamming doors you can be seen as a leader to please the next time rather than an enemy to satisfy. The same format taught for conflict might be used, “Joe, when you do blank I feel angry because…” Now Joe can talk about his action rather than reacting to your emotional barrage.
3) COMPETITOR ANGER is likely the better chance to use raw emotion productively. In this case you want to elicit a shared experience. Share with your team what your competitor did, whether they cheated or created an honest advantage. Describe your reaction and why and then look for the team reaction. If it is far different than yours you have probably discovered the root of a bigger problem. Here you can use your will to win, your desire to have everyone on your team to excel, benefit or profit. You can align, solicit countermeasures and direct energy at fixing and winning.
It is a rare occasion that a good leader allows any emotion to flow raw and uncensored. Remember, business isn’t about satisfying your emotional needs, there is a mission and goals so emotion needs to be processed, clarified and connected to a strategic response that avoids the next anger opportunity. So go ahead and get mad if it is honest and warranted, but use your brain to temper your heart. Remember that getting angry is only useful if you find a positive action to counter it and makes others want to fix it rather than cringing and learning how to avoid it in the future.