Six Griefs of Good Leadership – (3) ANGER

In the third part of this series looking at the importance for leaders of working effectively with your emotions we will examine ANGER. Is displaying anger as a leader always counter productive? Will it help or harm your leadership development?

  • How could they do that to one of my team?!
  • Don’t they see how important this is?!
  • I’m not giving up that easily!

Anger is one of the few emotions that bad leaders are often willing to embrace – venting their frustrations on their team in order to make themselves feel more powerful. This is why so much that is written about leadership and anger focuses on how to control it and remain calm.

However, feeling anger is a sign that you care about something and want to protect that thing from a potential threat. In our evolutionary past the thing we were protecting with our anger might have been our own survival or the safety of our family.

To determine whether experiencing anger is a good or a bad thing as a leader, ask yourself the question: ‘What am I trying to protect?’ If it’s your own status, sense of power or desire to be right all the time, then chances are you are experiencing destructive anger and you need to get it under control. If, instead, what you are trying to protect is the self-esteem of a team member, the loyalty of your customers or the quality of your services, then anger may be completely appropriate. Another test for the validity of your feelings of anger is whether you get just as angry at yourself if you are the one whose behaviour is threatening that thing you care about.

Managing anger in leadership roles

Even if it’s OK to feel such ‘righteous anger’, there is still a question about how useful it is to express that anger. There is mixed evidence about the effect of leaders displaying anger in the workplace. It can motivate some workers and demotivate others. It can be helpful in some negotiation situations, but not others. It can enhance perceptions of leader authenticity by showing that you care or reduce respect by showing that you cannot control yourself. It obviously depends on the context and on the way you demonstrate your anger.

One of the effects of anger is to motivate you to act without giving too much consideration to the consequences. This can be great for overcoming fear but can also lead to doing things that you end up feeling guilty about. Anger focuses your attention on the perceived threat so that you can devote your resources to countering it, but it can make you blinkered so that you fail to notice other important things.

The main question to ask yourself is ‘Are my feelings of anger going to help me fix this or do I just want to make myself feel better?’


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