There is a force that deforms leadership. It arises from within the leader and it permeates everything he or she does. The team feels it. Those outside the firm feel it. Family and friends certainly feel it. Yet because it is a force that can feel like strength and command in the leader’s soul, many leaders actually like it and draw on it. They shouldn’t. It is because the force I’m talking about is anger, and it—like many forces I have described in these Leading Thoughts—is a cancer on great leadership.
You’ve certainly been around the kind of leader I’m talking about. They are quick to chastise, quick to criticize. They have a short, harsh, just-shy-of-rude manner to them. There is no joy or humor. In fact, if there is any humor it is sarcastic and cutting. Their team members fear them and secretly hope to avoid them. The leader never knows this because the team members are over responsive to the angry leader. They greet too effusively. They agree too readily. They are trying to change the tone, to be accepted through the angry gates of their leader’s emotional fortress.
I was visiting an institution that is led by a man known for his angry, domineering ways. At a meeting in a conference room, every single person in attendance from that institution was called on their cell phone by this leader. It was the response of each person to the call that told the tale. The phone rang. They got a look on their face. A bit of fear. A bit of, “Oh No!” They unnaturally jumped up, grabbed their phone, and announced that they had to leave to take a call from this senior man. Everyone in the room gave knowing, sympathetic looks or groans. No one seemed moved by devotion or love or loyalty or by any inspiration this man represented.
This leader is an angry man, made all the worse by the fact he is a religious leader who has blanketed his anger with harsh religion. But what made him this way?
Well, I don’t have space here to get too psychological. Yet with men, anger usually is a cover for hurt. I would bet that this man has been deeply hurt in his past. By what? By anything. Parents, the humiliation of family poverty, by siblings, by the pain of being the slowest kid in the class—anything. And what we do, men in particular, is carry that pain, covered by anger, forward in our lives. We are then harsh with family. We are legalistic in our religion. We are demanding of our team members beyond reason.
It is also sad that many an angry man sees rejection and disrespect in actions that really don’t have much meaning at all. A staffer is late to meetings. A team member didn’t get a task done. These people need coaching and correction, but the deep hurt the leader felt—hurt he masked with anger—is far beyond anything real in these actions. Yet the unending cycle continues.
Here’s the solution. I want you to notice it is the same solution for many of the cancerous syndromes I describe here. Get outside eyes on you. Get help in diving into your soul. Get honest, safe feedback from team members. Go to the source of your anger if you find anger tainting you. Get help in resolving old wounds and damage. Change the tone of your leadership and thus the culture around you.