Can you lead well when you feel angry?
A corporate executive described himself as “useless” when he experienced upset.
When he felt angry, he found it difficult to make simple decisions and get regular work done.
Both his team and his family agreed that something needed to change.
The leader’s inability to manage his anger crippled his business, as decision-making and execution are critical to outcomes.
“How do you deal with anger and still lead well?”
That’s the question he asked when he first called for help.
“I’m in the middle of an expansion, Patti. Operating at my best is critical. How do I work around this thing?”
I responded, “You can’t work around it. In fact, the key idea here is to manage your emotions well. When you learn to do this, your decision-making and your ability to get work done will be much stronger than it ever has been.”
“I’m listening,” he said. “But it doesn’t sit well with me. When I am upset, I shut down. I actually feel numb, and it’s hard to think at all.”
He and I met to continue our conversation. He described himself as steady, even keeled in most all situations, and one who shied away from confrontations.
“I’m really pretty easy to get along with,” he said. “But I admit to having some hot buttons. It really gets me going when people are unreliable or untrustworthy. But that’s pretty normal, right?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Those are some of my hot buttons, as well. How do you handle it when these things come up?”
“That’s where it gets difficult,” he explained. “I tend to stuff my irritation and ignore the problem. You can guess how that winds up. In fact, I hate to tell on myself, but I’ve allowed some pretty bad behavior on my team. As it worsens, I get angry. And then I just withdraw and shut down. When I’m hot under the collar, I can’t think. And then, with this expansion, I need everyone to just get on board and stop the nonsense. But they don’t. And that makes me angrier. And at a certain point, when my blood pressure can’t take it anymore, I simply numb out.”
“What’s worse is that when I go home, I think I can switch gears and shut the office out of my head. But my wife says this definitely doesn’t work. She says I don’t connect with the family – no conversation, just a low-hum heavy feeling in the air. I told her I was meeting with you to help me deal with this. She says to thank you in advance on behalf of the entire family. I had no idea it was affecting things that much.”
“So, here’s what I’m hearing,” I said. “You’ve just outlined what may be the chief reason for your company’s productivity loss, your executive team’s in-fighting, your lost deadlines holding back expansion – and your family life at home. That’s huge. You need more emotional agility, and you need it quickly.
“Emotional agility is the ability to navigate challenges by managing your inner game – your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.”
He stared at me with his mouth open. “I’ll do just about anything. I am seeing damage all around me from this. How do I turn this around? How do I get more emotional agility so that I can get things back on track?”
Over the next few months, he and I worked together on making friends with anger.
It sounds odd, but it isn’t. Emotions are powerful, and most of us simply don’t know how to harness this power. Emotions are simply a signal that alerts us when something affects us or our experience. Paying attention to these signals can sharpen our critical thinking and our execution.
But creating awareness around the emotions we are feeling and making friends with them as mere signals is just the first step.
The next step is crucial – managing your emotions.
And this step was indeed more challenging. Once he recognized that anger would help alert him to pay attention to something, he then needed to decide how to address the situation that was causing it.
As he and I identified biggest potential wins through managing his anger, confrontation was first. There was a key area within the executive team that had been left to fester.
He had to decide what he would expect of the two execs causing the trouble, to share it with them, and then to stand by this to enforce accountability.
Then, he needed to recognize how to make decisions, even in a “hot state.”
This meant recognizing and validating the emotion so that he could self-regulate (simmer down) and make decisions based on his values and not be driven by emotion.
Over the following months, the business began to respond positively at both individual and team levels, and the culture shift had significant impact on the company’s ability to expand and do it well.
He single-handedly turned the business around by managing his own leadership.
In confronting his own growth area, he created impact throughout the organization.
What one thing in your leadership could make a critical impact to your business or area of responsibility?
© Patti Cotton and patticotton.com. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that attribution is made to Patti Cotton and patticotton.com, with links thereto.
Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.