The Dangers of Anger in Leaders

By | December 4, 2014

[December 04, 2014] Ever witness your boss express his anger at someone by screaming or cussing? If you have, you are one of the majorities of people that have had the experience. This type of anger expression is relatively mild but can be worse and its study can provide us with an opportunity to learn a leadership lesson. Further, workplace violence that results from anger can have serious consequences. When leaders are involved, the risks associated with expressing anger multiples its impact. Unfortunately, while the dangers of anger in the general population have been a studied, those of leaders have not.

Long ago as an Infantry company commander, my higher headquarters’ commander was one of the best in the military and I was privileged to work for him. Later he became a friend and mentor to me; something I was honored to possess. Early in our relationship I was witness to his habit of occasional anger. His expression of this anger, often when tired and frustrated, involved the habit of throwing his helmet across the room (not at anyone) and storming out. The first time it happened with a new group of leaders inside a meeting room we were momentarily shocked and indecisive on what to do. This behavior was in a training scenario. Imagine the negative impact if we had been in combat … the situation could have been made worse by it. While this is example is minor, it does begin to paint a picture that leaders can put people and organizations at risk by how they express anger.

When we learn leadership, and we do this by modeling our behavior after successful leaders, we can pick up some less desirable traits as well. Be careful and try to use some common sense, recognizing that people are not perfect, and that sometimes leaders need a subordinate to step in to help. The risks to organizational effectiveness and efficiency is great … the credibility of the organization can also be at risk.

Generally, expressing anger has a downside – such as bias in decisions – but the emotion of anger is particularly destructive. Further, how others interpret those expressions of anger can vary greatly. For example, a grand jury voted not to indict a New York City policeman who killed a man with a chokehold.1 Immediately after this news, Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would push for a federal probe into the police action. Many say that AG Holder only does this for blacks that are killed by police officers and is an attempt to punish police departments for “biased” arrests and unnecessary violence against innocent black people.2

Anger in leaders can be interpreted to mean anything and this could be the case with the Attorney General. His words could be taken to mean if a black person is harmed by the police for any reason, the police will be punished by the DoJ. This is why AG Holder needs to chose his words more wisely and work to defuse racial animosity, something he has not done well to date.

Leaders should make it a point to study anger in other leaders and take a close look at the lessons that will come from their failures. Leaders learn from other leaders.

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[2] Attorney General Eric Holder has frequently expressed verbally his anger when blacks are killed by police officers; strongly implying that the police officers were wrong and the black was just an innocent victim of police prejudice against blacks. This follows on the recent news of the Ferguson case where a police officer shot and killed a black teenager. Remember that AG Holder is the one who says Americans are “cowards” regarding race. He has repeatedly stated that something must be done about these injustices. He has decided now to bring the federal arm of the government to bear on any police action that involves the killing of blacks. This has put the Department of Justice in an unenviable position of upholding justice while pursuing a policy of targeting police departments.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

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