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One of the most prevalent problems employees say they face in the workplace is a leader prone to anger. Of the many possible emotions exhibited by leaders, anger is the most destructive. Each year, millions of employees either disengage from their jobs or leave them entirely due to their inability to endure their leader’s anger.

Anger at the leadership level is an age-old issue, one that has improved little despite a greater focus in recent years on self-assessment, workplace behavior and anger management. Leaders who have learned to control their anger have experienced amazing responses from their people, as efficiencies, morale and engagement climb significantly. The key is to understand the various aspects of anger.

Sources of Anger

Noted sociologist Dr. Millard Bienvenu claimed that anger is prompted by a perceived threat that has a personal impact of some kind. Anger is a response to the threat, and can be observable or hidden, sudden or delayed.

Threats can represent various levels of impact, influencing the degree of response. On the extreme scale, threats can pose physical danger, either personally or to someone you care about. An intermediate level of threat might be an imposition or setback; something troubling or gravely disappointing. This could involve a ruined plan or a denial of something felt deserved. A lower level of threat might be manifested in an inconvenience or annoyance. Waiting longer than expected in a line, or an untimely traffic jam would fit into this category.

Threats can also be subdued or subtle, where the recipient feels unfairly treated. These situations can instill a sense of not being valued or appreciated. Threats like these cut deeply, affecting one’s self-esteem, perhaps the most potent threat of all. We typically respond with anger when people indicate we have little value.

The first step to conquer anger is to recognize its source each time it raises its ugly head. Try to make the connection between the prompt and your response, so you can identify what kinds of events trip your wire.

Recognize the Anger

As you pinpoint the types of issues that trigger anger, stop and assess the effects they have on you. Anger always has an effect. Anger that isn’t resolved can cause resentment, anxiety, bitterness, depression, stress, fatigue, health issues or a general coldness to people. All of these are detrimental to your productivity and leadership. Peter Bregman, in his 2014 Harvard Business Review article entitled, What to Do When Anger Takes Hold, advises leaders to sense the negative feelings, and work through them. Better choices are possible when the causes and effects of feelings are understood.

Your relationships are damaged by the way anger changes you. It also effects everyone else in a negative way. People try to avoid angry coworkers, which strains communication and collaboration. Work is challenging enough without walls between people. Employees wondering when the next outburst will come from their leader will take no risks, make no extra efforts or be willing to make decisions. They will play it safe and avoid any wrath they can.

A leader prone to anger will find their reputation and security threatening. With a staff leery of their leader’s mood, the productivity of the team suffers. People are not engaged with their work. Some of them will look for other jobs, creating a turnover problem. When an anger-prone leader drives people away, everyone notices, including higher executives.

Thoughtful reflection is helpful in recognizing any of these trends. Comparing your responses today to those of the past may shed light on the transformation. Be honest with yourself. The first step to improve is to see the need. Get feedback from a trusted colleague or family member. Your anger issue is certainly noticed. Be an accepting listener and make it a safe conversation for them to have.

An Effective Approach to Dealing with Anger

The most powerful step in conquering anger is admitting the problem. Only an acknowledgement of the issue’s seriousness and its detrimental effects will determine you to overcome them. Part of the honesty you have with yourself is to avoid blaming others. No one has the power to make you angry. It’s a choice you make. No other people, objects or circumstances are responsible.

A good step following admission is to try to determine the reasons you choose anger as a response. Ask yourself if you had a role to play in the situation. Did the incident originate with your behavior or words? Assess the way you treat people. The trigger for your anger may originate with your actions, but all you can see is the actions of others.

Looking at the threats themselves can provide insight. Try to evaluate why you feel threatened enough to express anger. Think through the circumstances and apply reasoning. You will likely conclude that the threats aren’t severe enough to warrant an angry response. In the grand scheme of things, what upsets you is probably relatively minor in nature. Looking through this relative lens may offer a more stable perspective for your mind. What could be the worst outcome? Mentally preparing for it takes the edge off when difficulty strikes. These steps help you shake off more issues and recover on a higher road.

When you consider the things you find annoying and anger-inducing, are they that unusual or are they fairly typical occurrences? Lines at checkouts grow all the time. Traffic jams are a part of life. Expect them and don’t let them get to you. The world is full of difficulties. Lowering your expectations of a hassle-free life will allow you to handle the frustrations and disappointments with less tension. A greater sense of peace diminishes the tendency for anger.

These are the steps you can take to adjust to setbacks, measure your responses, consider others and conquer your anger. As a leader, you owe your people the best environment possible.

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Inscape Consulting Group
Greg Nichvalodoff, BSc. BM (Honors), MBA, PCC, CMC
Office: 604.943.0800
Mobile: 604.831.4734