As a history buff, I recently read a short story about the fall of Napoleon. Yes, the Emperor of France who conquered most of Europe in the 1800s. In a famous event, Napoleon raced back to Paris from the battlefields after receiving intelligence that his two top government officials were apparently conspiring against him.
The story goes that Napoleon stormed into a room full of his government officials and the two “conspirators.” He screamed and yelled for hours saying he should fire them, interrogate them, and even have them hanged – yet, he had no proof. Without proof, he could do nothing but scream and rant in a way that eventually became comical as the rest of the room remained calm. The “conspirators” smiled politely. The angrier he got the more professional his team became. So, he left. His chief aide announced to the full room that it was so sad to see a great man stoop to such bad behavior.
It is said that this moment was when Napoleon lost his grip on his empire and his ability to lead the country. This was the beginning of his end.
To be a leader, you need to be respected by those around you. This respect isn’t guaranteed, it is earned. And it is not earned through temper tantrums. Our behavior as leaders impacts our organization’s culture more significantly than some inspiring words hanging proudly on the break room wall. The angrier the leader, the more ironic phrases like “employees first” and “happy employees equal happy customers” become. Your employees will see right through it – and so will your customers.
Instead, and this might sound counter intuitive, I was taught to repurpose the energy from anger into something positive. To intentionally use the energy as a leadership tactic – one that motivated myself, and those around me, to strive to be better than the day before.
Reactive temper tantrums, on the other hand, drive short-term and reactive thinking. You can’t avoid being angry – and you shouldn’t. But you absolutely need to have proper coping mechanisms in place to maintain the respect of those around you and to turn anger into positive results. I’ve outlined a handful of tips below:
How to navigate anger like an effective leader:
- Maintain your composure. As a leader, it’s on you to set examples that you want others to follow. Whether you’re leading a multi-million-dollar business or a club at your university, the way you lead will determine the culture of your organization. Take the “high road” in every single situation.
- Walk away. If something or someone makes you angry, remove yourself from the stimulus for 24 hours. Allow the feelings to pass through you and then approach the situation with a level head and a fresh perspective. Effective decisions are never made in anger. Take your time.
- Know yourself. Effective leaders are self-aware. They recognize their weaknesses as much as they recognize their strengths – working to improve both every day. If you’re prone to anger, work in the background to understand where this tendency grew from and how you can confront and control it. There is no quick answer here and many people need help to regulate their emotions. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness.
- Channel your energy. Anger is a normal response. While you can’t control how you feel, you can control what you do about your emotions. Take the energy that you feel when angry and turn it into something productive. Maybe this energy inspires you to make changes within your organization or maybe you use it to finally go after a goal you’ve had on the backburner.
- Expect others to do the same. While you can’t control how those around you act, you can control what you tolerate. Successful organizations and individuals have no time for people who allow anger to rule their thoughts and behaviors.
It’s important to note that getting loud and even “yelling” is an off-kilter leadership communication style that I’ve picked up from my father that isn’t attached to any feelings of anger. Suddenly raising my voice during a meeting is not predictable and may seem out of place in an office setting – which is exactly why it helps me command a room, get people fired up, and stress the importance of certain topics. The one rule for this tactic is to never, ever, get loud out of anger. If you feel like you might, start with step one in the list above.
All of us have encountered volatile leaders – or ones who’ve led by tempter tantrum. How did their behavior impact your performance or the performance of your organization? And because all of us have different mechanisms for coping with anger, please feel free to share a couple that work for you. I’m looking forward to your insight!