Don’t believe me? Think back on a time when the boss, or the coach, or the team leader got really ticked off and started venting, not just at you but at everybody. I’ve been on sales teams where this happened: the sales manager was getting seriously frustrated with a few sales reps, but instead of dealing with the “problem children” privately, he decided it was best to chew out the whole team. Believe me, that sales meeting got really quiet, really fast. The boss wasted his anger on the whole team, and it didn’t accomplish what he thought it would. In fact, it was deeply counter-productive, breeding resentment and mistrust.
The Angry Boss also wastes his or her anger by blindsiding people in individual settings. In past sales jobs I’ve been in one-on-one meetings with my boss where I was suddenly on the receiving end of an angry outburst that caught me by surprise and felt unjustified. In meetings like that we tend to get really defensive really fast, and the quality of the communication goes downhill rapidly. Instead of engaging in fruitful problem-solving, we can’t wait to get out of the door.
So, bosses, listen up: your anger is a powerful force. You may not realize it, but unless I miss my guess the majority of your employees or direct reports are highly attuned to your moods. I suspect they really do want to do a good job — and in so doing they actually want to help you look good. You have considerable power to establish the tone and culture of your organization, company or team through the careful management of your moods! Please, manage those moods wisely.
You Old Testament fans may want to check out a great example of this leadership principle in the book of Nehemiah. In chapter 5 we read that the people working on rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem had to stop work due to acute financial stress. Had Nehemiah been like some bosses he might have come unglued at this work stoppage and started kicking rear ends — but he didn’t. Instead, as angry as he was with the situation, he took a deep breath and realized who was responsible: the self-centered so-called community leaders who were fleecing their own people. He went to these greedy gougers and confronted them head-on, got them to change their ways, and the work on the wall resumed. I suspect morale soared as well.
So, leaders, those of us who report to you are asking you — please — use your anger carefully, wisely, selectively. Your anger can motivate a positive change or it can create deep resentment and chronic mistrust. Next time your temper starts to flare, take a breath, determine where the real problem lies, and use your anger like a scalpel, not a machete. Because of hard work and wise leadership, Nehemiah and his people got the wall built in only 52 days! I’ll bet your team can accomplish great things, too.