Leadership lessons from the pink corner: Anger management 101.

Bang! The door to my office flew open. I jumped, startled at best and terrified at worst for I could not imagine what would be the cause of this anger. He strode into my office, six feet two inches of angry male. He was so angry, he was visibly shaking. I carefully schooled my features into a reserved and unreadable mask.One thing life has taught me is to never show fear, weakness or arrogance in the face of intimidation and provocation.

It was one of my fellow leaders. One who had an issue with managing his emotions. Particularly anger. On that day, he was angry at one of my staff for something they did that he didn’t like and he was justified. His reaction and approach to solving the problem wasn’t. I could see how angry he was, and knew if I stood up I would likely lose my temper too and so I sat down calmly and waited for the explosion. It came very rapidly.

He begun shouting his case amidst epithets and abuse. I am sure all the staff heard him all the way down the corridor. I stood up walked around the desk to a table in the corner, took one of the seat and calmly requested him to sit down, lower his voice and then I would be able to listen to him. He took a deep breath, almost burst a vein at His temples at my audacity and started again. The volume was a decibel lower, the stance still confrontational. I again calmly requested him to sit down and lower his voice so we could talk about the problem.

When he saw that I was serious, he paced up and down a few times.He then pulled out a chair, sat down and after a couple of deep breaths spoke in a tightly controlled normal tone and explained why he was upset. It was an issue that we were able to resolve in five minutes of calm discussion. After the drama, he walked out of the office with a bashful smile on his face and a solution in his hands. But, was there damage done?

Yes. A significant amount of damage. He lost the respect of all the staff who heard his shouting. He undermined our credibility as leadership who could lead with patience and dignity. He lost face with me, feeling silly as he did for losing his temper and saying things that hurt, let’s just say it was going to be very difficult to count him as a friend; professional or otherwise. Lastly and most significant, he was labelled by all as a loose cannon. And guess what? If anything went wrong, he would always be the last to find out because no one would ever want to be on the receiving end of his anger.

My colleague never learnt this lesson sadly, and one day got a more senior leadership position. Unfortunately, he was the overall in charge and he spent two years in the next organisation terrorising, shouting at and driving the staff hard. One day they had enough, he was hounded out by workers strikes, board grievances and even the government of the said country, stepped in by placing him on a persona non grata list. He has been unable to get another job as no one can provide a positive reference. His emotions have finally caught up with him.

The lesson that I have tacked on my pink wall for future reference is to remember that while emotions are fleeting, their effects are permanent. The character judgements they give rise to indelible. Handle them with care. In the work place anger management must take centre stage even under extreme provocation.

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