Dealing with Anger? A Lesson on Self-Control



In this second installment in my four-part series on character, I want to talk about anger and self control. Let’s face it, anger is a problem in the workplace today. There are far too many leaders who are just outright angry. They berate their staff at every turn, don’t listen to input from others, and lack the compassion and grace that accompany good leadership. As a result of this behavior, many employees are jumping ship. 

For example, a Gallup poll found that 50% of employees left their job because they wanted to get away from their manager. Imagine that! Now, we don’t know how many of that percentage had to do specifically because of their manager’s anger, but here’s the ticker: managers impact an employees decision to stay in a company, or leave. As it’s been said, employees don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses

Good employees leave angry bosses because nothing does more to destroy a leader’s credibility with his team than his anger.. A leader who is unable to control his anger and is always berating those in his path is seen as insecure, untrustworthy, and unapproachable. No one wants to put up with that kind of behavior. This emotion is so dangerous that the Bible refers to those who give full vent to their anger as straight up fools (Prov 29:11). 

In this category of angry bosses are also passive aggressive leaders who bottle their anger inside. They don’t have outbursts, but they retaliate against others in more subtle and pernicious ways. They are probably even more dangerous than someone who screams and yells. At least with the yeller what you see is what you get.

If you are a leader, keep in mind that your relationship with your direct reports is the most important factor in determining whether or not they stay. There are many things you can’t control, but your emotion should not be one of them. Be the type of boss that people want to work for, and you will find yourself attracting some of the best talent out there. But if you are always angry and unable to control your temper, you will drive good talent away from you.

Anger is not always wrong

On the onset, however, I must say that anger itself is not wrong. Anger is an emotion, and like any other emotion, there is a time and place for it. It is good to be angry at injustice or violence or abuse toward the weak. It is good to be angry at the exploitation of those who are unable to defend themselves. Anger is a good emotion. However, when anger is used as a tool to hurt and berate others, it’s a problem. It is often said that two wrongs don’t make a right. This is true, too, in the case of anger. If you are angry about something, but then don’t use it in a constructive manner, you can actually do more harm than good.

How should you use anger in a constructive way?

One of the key traits of a character-filled leader is the ability to properly control his anger. As I said before, someone who gives full vent to his anger is actually a fool (Prov 29:11). So, the first step is to learn to control your anger. The Bible says that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control. Only God can give someone the fruit of self-control. So before we even talk about the practical outworkings of self-control, I would be remiss if I failed to point you to the source of self-control — God himself. Get to know him through his word, the bible, and you will, in time, find yourself having a better understanding of yourself and the ability to control your emotions.

At the end of the day, this is not behavior modification, it’s a heart change. A complete shift in mindset. If left unchecked your anger can destroy not only your reputation at work, but your career, your relationship with loved ones, and ultimately your life. It is not something to take lightly.

With that in mind, here are some tips that you can use as a leader to properly deal with anger. My goal here is not to give you a kumbaya process to follow when you are angry. Instead, I want to help you establish systems which can help you avoid that boiling point altogether.

Although I am referring to leaders in this article, these tips are not only for the boss. Anyone, regardless of your occupation, can benefit from these tips today.

Three strategies to avoid anger

1. Be clear in your expectations to you team and create a culture of accountability.

Where there is no vision, the people perish (Prov 29:18).

As a leader, it is your job to set the right vision and expectation for your team. You have to paint the sky with what the end looks like, so that the team knows exactly which target to aim for. If you are not providing clear expectations, then you cannot get angry if the results were not delivered according to your “expectations”. It does not make sense to provide no direction and then be surprised when your team gets lost.

So, endeavor today to provide clear expectations to your team at the start of each project. This can prevent a lot of frustration. Once you have articulated the expectations, make sure that each member of your team understands which part of the project they need to work on. This is where accountability comes in. Once they can articulate their responsibility in the project, they’ll be able to take ownership of it. Click here for a full article on how to create a culture of accountability.

I also encourage you to establish a regular cadence of meetings with you team. Use these meetings to check on the status of the project and answer any question the team has. This is also a time for you to find out if the expectations are still clear, or if you need to modify them based on the feedback from the team.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking. If, after being crystal clear about your expectations, and the team still does not deliver on the results, is it now time to blast them?

Nope. This is where step two comes in.

2. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1: 19,20).

In business, not everything goes according to plan. When things don’t happen the way you expected, don’t get mad. Instead, take some time to understand why. This requires you to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Remember, the goal is to build trust with your team so that they feel comfortable sharing information with you. You will not get anything from them if your first inclination is to yell and scream when something goes wrong. So, learn to take a step back and ask some questions – before you answer.

He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him (Prov 18:13)

One of the tools I learned in project management is the concept of the five whys. As the name suggests, you pretty much keep asking why until you reach the root cause of the problem. During this investigation period, it is important to not assign blame to anyone on the team (unless of course someone was knowingly negligent, in which case you might need to take some more serious corrective action. More on this in point number three).

As you use the five whys method, keep the conversation focused on the problem and not on the people. This is the best way for you to gather objective information about what went wrong and how to fix it moving forward. If you already have a regular cadence of checkpoint meetings, though, you will be able to spot the problem and fix it way before something goes wrong.

3. Learn to be firm and fair in how you handle poor performance

In my observation, leaders that do not know how to handle poor performance on their teams tend to be the most angry. I know because I used to be one of them. They scream and yell, but as the proverb says, their bark is often louder than their bite. They are so insecure in their ability to lead that they default to yelling, instead of taking appropriate corrective actions early on when the poor performance was perhaps more minor.  

As a result of their constant yelling, the poor performers no longer take them seriously. They know that the anger is a passing phase and that nothing of consequence will be done. Even the strong performers on the team start taking notice. They spot the inconsistency and lack of backbone in the leader, and want out. A leader who fails to deal with poor performance will eventually lose all credibility with his team. .

Remember, 50% of employees leave their job because they want to get away from their immediate supervisor. You don’t want to be the type of a leader who push people away. You want to be type who attracts top talent.

In order to do this, be firm in how you deal with poor performance. Learn to pull people aside at the first sight of poor performance and have a conversation with them. Let them know what you observe, and ask questions to understand why the error is occurring. Is someone coming to work late? Don’t let the situation fester. Take action quickly and find out why. Are you hearing rumors that someone on the team is creating a toxic work environment? Again, set time aside to investigate the situation and have a conversation with that person. Learn to nip things in the bud early and quickly, and you will save yourself a lot of frustration later on.

And if you notice that a team member refuses to change his poor behavior, even after you have spoken with them about it on multiple occasions, then do yourself and everyone a favor and fire them. You don’t have to be angry about it either. You will find that this simple move will help to boost the morale of your team tremendously, and they will respect your leadership and firmness.

As I have said before, your relationship with your direct reports is very important to the success of your team. And you don’t just influence that relationship by what you say every day. You actually influence it more by what you do. Your team is always watching what you do to see if your words match your actions. You can speak all you want about the importance of culture and team dynamics, but if you are unable to control your anger, it is like washing your hands and wiping in on the floor. You will not be able to accomplish anything of significance.

So use those tips above to create the right environment at work. And keep it mind that the emotion of anger itself is not always wrong, but what you do with that emotion is what counts. Therefore, learn to  establish clear expectations, ask questions to understand the root cause of problems, and deal firmly with poor performance. If you can do these things on a regular basis, you will find yourself having a fun time with your team.

Check out more in my Character Series:
Part 1: Do You Live a Life of Integrity? An Inside Look.
Part 3: The Truth about Humility: A Guide to Humble Leadership

– Led by the Book

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