Anger Is Not A Virtue In Leadership

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I can tell you from experience that this post from “Task and Purpose” is pretty spot on concerning leadership through anger. During a conversation with one of my  junior Sergeants years ago, I became aware that I was actually “doing it right” in regards to the method of leadership and discipline that I used. He told me that my men were not concerned about be screamed at by me if they screwed up. Their concern was in disappointing me. My expectations were simple. Best effort and constant improvement. I am not a perfectionist, but I expected everyone to strive for it. I was very fortunate in my first unit because I had some awesome SSG’s, SFC’s, and Master Sergeants to learn leadership from and come to emulate. Their manner of leadership became my style of leadership once I became an NCO.

This concept applies even more in the civilian world than in the military. There is always a good bit of shouting and simulated anger in Basic Training so service personnel come to expect and are able to deal with a fair amount of it (Well, I don’t know about now a days, but it used to be that way). In the civilian world, whether it is a business venture or surviving SHTF, you are better off learning to express your desires and needs in a calm, cool, collected manner. If not, you might just make your target audience catatonic with fear of failure, and that could get you all killed.

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Real Leaders Don’t Motivate Their Troops By Being Angry

on December 24, 2016

Getting angry might be emotionally satisfying, but it’s usually ineffective as a means of motivating people.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on The Military Leader, a blog by Drew Steadman that provides leader development resources and insight for leaders of all professions.

The best leaders don’t use anger as a leadership tool. Anger is not a mandatory component of leadership because there are countless examples of successful leaders who never get angry. Yet, we can think of many leaders whose anger has compromised their effectiveness. The question is: what does anger get you? And then at what cost?

The Downside of Leading with Anger

The 7th Habit in Marshall Goldsmith’s “Twenty Habits That Hold You Back From The Top” is “Speaking when angry.” He says that anger does have some value for spurring change, but the cost to followers far exceeds that value. “Emotional volatility is not the most reliable leadership tool. When you get angry, you are usually out of control. It’s hard to lead people when you’ve lost control.”

You also have no idea how other people will react to it. It may make you feel better but everyone else just feels worse. It may energize the team for a short time, but not for the long haul. Goldsmith adds, “It’s very hard to predict how people will react to anger. They will shut down as often as they will perk up.”

RELATED: ‘ACTION MAN’ OR ‘PLANNING MAN’: KNOW YOUR ROLE AT EVERY LEVEL OF COMMAND »

Getting angry once or twice is recoverable (with an apology). But it doesn’t take much to become branded as an angry leader, a reputation that tends to precede every duty station you arrive at and prepend every interaction that people have with you. Followers and bosses alike will judge you on that reputation. In fact, I’ve seen people go out of their way to warn colleagues that their new boss “has a temper.”

Special Vulnerability for The Military Leader

It’s rare that angry military leaders simply have rotten characters. Usually it’s a breakdown of self-control that leads to angry outbursts. Stress, fatigue, and hunger are regular culprits. The problem is that military life is full of moments that cause stress, fatigue, and hunger.

For instance…you pulled an all-nighter writing the operations order, so naturally you’re irritable. You missed breakfast after PT and with glucose depleted, you lash out at the first subordinate who makes a mistake. You spend seven exhausting days in the field and your spouse has a “honey do” list waiting for you at the house, prompting you to energetically tell her you deserve a break.

High-paced operations, austere conditions, pressure to perform, and overall physical discomfort challenge the personal energy, patience, and emotional control of military leaders. Anger is easier in the military environment.

But that’s no excuse.

It’s okay to feel anger…it’s not okay to lead with it. Anger runs counter to every positive effect that military leaders should try to create in their teams. Initiative, confidence, cohesion, and commitment, are all impacted by a culture of anger. An angry leader will stifle creativity, the very element needed to solve complex organizational and operational problems. Followers are hesitant to bring their problems and challenges to an angry leader, a key sign of a trusting relationship. Whether it’s a permanent personality trait or an “every once in a while” outburst…anger isn’t worth it.

Tips for Avoiding Angry Leadership

So, you need to avoid leading when you’re angry. You need to find out if anger is a behavior you display publicly, figure out how to detect it, and then emplace controls to prevent or redirect your anger when it arises. Here are some ideas:

  • Invite feedback from followers. As with many problems, an open line of communication from those you lead will shed light on your behavior. But you must commit to really listening to that feedback. Hold a sensing session, or seek individual engagements, or issue a command climate survey. And be specific. Focus on discovering how your followers perceive and receive your leadership behavior.
  • Ask a trusted advisor. Whether it’s a senior enlisted advisor, a commander, a peer, or a spouse, those closest to you will be able to reveal if anger comes through in your personality. They see you at your best and your worst. But maybe you’ve never given them permission to tell you so. Ask some hard questions: “What’s it like to experience my leadership?” “How do I change when I’m fatigued and stressed?” “Does it seem like I am in tune with my emotional states and deliberate about their effect?” The answers may surprise you.
  • Become “meta aware.” Ever feel like you’re in reaction mode, bouncing from task to task, engagement to engagement without pausing to assess if you’re doing a good job or having the effect you want? Taking a step back to assess the quality of your performance is called meta awareness. It’s seeing yourself from an outside perspective, like watching a movie of yourself performing. Meta awareness will help you self-identify when your emotional, physical, and physiological conditions are priming you for poor leadership behavior. Once aware, you can take action to alter your emotional state or adjust your environment accordingly.
  • Keep your mouth shut. Marshall Goldsmith says, “If you keep your mouth shut, no one can know how you really feel.” It’s hard for leaders to resist adding their two cents, but opening your mouth when you’re emotionally charged can have damaging effects. So, don’t do it. Make a rule never to engage your team when you’re amped-up.
  • Take a breath. If you do see a mistake and become frustrated, let it go for a minute. Take a breath. Watch how others respond, gain context on the mistake, and give your body a moment to translate your emotions into coherent, controlled feedback, not outbursts. Reactive leading is “stimulus then immediate reaction.” Deliberate leading is “stimulus, pause, reflect, then react.” In nearly all leadership scenarios, you want to train the latter.
  • Reshape your emotional energy into a positive context. Generic, emotionally charged feedback sounds like this, “Are you kidding me? I can’t believe you people can’t get this right!!” There’s the “you vs. them” component, and there is no context. Will your followers fell the real impact of the situation simply because you’re upset? Some will, but it’s better to link your feedback to some operational component, which will bring the failure into their perspective. Instead of yelling, try calmly saying, “If we perform this way in combat, people will die.” Or, “There is a long line of service and sacrifice that got us to this point. We need to live up to that.” Angry leading neglects to consider that other forms of motivation might be just as effective, or even more so.

Yelling Isn’t (Necessarily) Angry

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I want to close with a caveat. I am fully aware that plenty of military moments require yelling. (The energetic soldier in the above photo clearly isn’t in a meeting.) In combat and in training, leaders need to quickly get their followers’ attention and give direction, or people die. But I want to offer that leaders can do so without a constant tone of anger. It’s the difference between motivating and degrading. Spend some time thinking about the difference and determining how it comes through in your leadership behavior.

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JCD

American by BIRTH, Infidel by CHOICE

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16 thoughts on “Anger Is Not A Virtue In Leadership

  1. Good post.

    It is my experience that it is the man who is 1) unsure of his authority — and who should not have been advanced into it to begin with — and 2) effeminate who is abusively angry. In the units I was in there was no surer way to lose respect.

    S//

      • I’ll have what Steve is drinking. Though my single malt “Irishman” is phenomenal, subtle aroma of Pears. Man it is good!! But I now acknowledge, after a libation, that yes, the snowflakes do indeed follow the mouse pointer!! Prior to Steve’s observation, I was thinking, “How can I get rid of this shit.”

        Steve, sincerely, best for the new year!

        Joe

  2. Pingback: MDT: Anger Is Not A Virtue In Leadership | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  3. ‘Keep your mouth shut’ and ‘Take a breath’ go hand in hand. The more angry you are, the longer you should try to do both of these things. This takes practice. If you have kids, they’ll probably help you get some of that practice.

    If your expected results differ wildly from the actual outcome, it might be prudent to reexamine how you are looking at things.

    Whatever it is, somebody, somewhere, will probably see some humor in it. Try to put yourself in that guy’s shoes.

    People learn, among other ways, by making mistakes. Let this happen during training, help them learn from the mistakes. You must expect mistakes to be made, particularly by people with little experience in whatever the task at hand is. If you expect mistakes, they won’t be as infuriating to you when they inevitably happen.

    I think it was Churchill that said something like war is a chain of mistakes leading to victory – so this is nothing new.

  4. When I was a Drill Sgt., A Private’s embarrassment was the worst punishment. For example, one time I was trying to get a bunch of privates to go prone and space themselves out at five meter intervals. A good number could not grasp the concept. There was clumps of two and three and then a space then another two then a single man. I repeated my instructions twice in as clear a manner and I could manage. Then I trotted up and grabbed the nearest man and physically hauled him five meters from is buddy. As I was doing so, I explained in a loud voice what five meters was and how he should space him self that exact distance from his buddy. Then I grabbed the next man and did it again. When I went to grab the third, he moved, hold your breath, approximately five meters from his fellows. I said something like. “Holy f’ing shit cakes, Batman! There is now a five meter interval between men! These Privates have discovered a new measurement of distance! Miracles still f’ing happen! You men are f’ing geniuses! Will ya look at that shit!” The first man I physically moved was fighting back tears.

    Another time, I could not get a Private to understand how to execute a column left or column right movement. I marched him out to the parking lot, stood behind him, grabbed him by the shoulders of his BDU’s and gave him the marching, and column left/right commands as I physically turned him when the correct foot hit the ground. Each time we executed the movement, I repeated the instruction, preparatory command, step in between, command of execution, step/pivot, forcible turn. After about five minutes of this non-stop he was in tears, realizing how simple the instruction was and how literally I had meant it. He was ashamed that he had appeared untrainable. I had him double time back to the barracks on his own. He turned out to be a good soldier.

    Civilian leadership is different than in the military. In the military, you have UCMJ authority behind your commands. In civilian life, there is not only a lack of absolute authority, there is ego in the way of EVERYTHING you do. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him give a fuck.

    Set the example, hope for the best, filter out those who do not fit, drive on with the mission regardless.

    • I completely agree. Besides the civilians getting butthurt to the point of inability to function, there is the “You’re not my boss!” mindset. Training them ahead of time with a fair amount of induced stress will help, but the fact is that just like the Privates you mentioned, you will probably have to put them into position when it gets “Skippy”. Being an example to emulate when you’re training and especially in a fight is the most reliable way to motivate your “troops” whether military or civilian.

      • Longbow has made an invaluable point here — the centrality of UCMJ in martial order and discipline. Without UCMJ the military would be like… well, like the “Constitutional militias.”

        “Being an example to emulate” is fine — and in most cases is inspiring — when one has a higher authority backing you up and the troops know they’ll be punished for disobeying. When there are no consequences for disobedience “being an example” is a pretty flabby way to hold a unit together.

        S//

        • Very flabby indeed! What I find funny is that the guys who are playing that game (militia) have drama within their “units” all the time (over the most trivial BS imaginable. And they think they’ll be “combat effective”!?), and unfortunately, I’ve seen it first hand way too many times. Without a threat of punishment (whether that’s getting your ass beat by the guy in charge, or UCMJ) there is nothing keeping the “troops” from doing their own thing except maybe the guy in charge being so squared away and proven, that they realize he is the only one making the right decisions that are keeping them alive. This is why I’ve told Survivalist groups that I’ve talked to that their most experienced person needs to be the guy in charge, not the guy who is everybody’s buddy, or the guy bankrolling the group.

  5. Shit! After being bellowed at, derided with contempt, cursed, condemned, and wished in hell by my superiors in the Army, NOW I find out that it’s not good leadership. WTF, over. Actually, I learned from these guys how NOT to lead. Besides, 5’7″ Drill Sgts. do not inspire troops by yelling at them, but by quietly instructing them in the prescribed manner. I had much success in this way, and learned a lot from bad instructors. Anger is just a way to lose the thread. The mission is to instruct, not chase away.

  6. Ok,,snow flakes are not following me pointer!I don’t know,perhaps me linux os?Actually,once have snowshoed once or twice kinda done with it personally.

    That said,am amazed despite the worlds insanity I woke up this am early,and,well I’ll be damned,survived another year!

    Happy New Year all and lets hope and work towards making it a good one.

  7. I heartily agree with the article. As a platoon sergeant, I rarely had to raise my voice other than to be heard over distance or other noises. I’ve had a few troopers reduced to tears just by expressing my disappointment in them and that I had been sure they were better than that. On one occasion, I did blow my stack and scream at one my troops (a chapter case that simply wouldn’t do anything he was told to). I heard other members of the platoon asking him “Lost Cause, what the F* did you DO? We heard Sgt S screM ING at you all the way across the quad. He NEVER screams!”

    • Yup. You tell them what is expected. You give them the tools and advice they need to be successful and eventually become good leaders. You give them an example to emulate by always showing them that they are your number one concern whether its their family situation, being the last one to eat hot chow (luke warm by then), or their welfare in combat.

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