LEADERSHIP AND LOSING YOUR TEMPER
Things weren’t going according to plan—his team was losing. The high school basketball head coach had lost his temper and he didn’t care who knew it! He threw up his hands in exasperation, he yelled at the referees for all the perceived bad calls his team was getting, and he screamed at his players every time they made a mistake on the court, followed by quickly taking them out of the game and sitting them on the bench. The more things didn’t go his way, the angrier he got. Finally, he lost his voice from all the bellowing, but he continued to croak as loudly as he could to express his ongoing frustration…
This is a true story. How do you think this game (and many others like it) turned out for this leader?
The short answer is, “Not very well.” Predictably, the young men who played for him (his followers) were afraid of him. When he put them in the game, they were extremely nervous and afraid that they would make a mistake and get punished for it (e.g., getting screamed at, getting benched). Therefore, they were very tense and played “tight.” This, of course, led to them playing less than their best and to making more mistakes than normal, which led to more anger from the coach, which led to more punishment, and so on in an endless merry-go-round of unhappiness and failure.
Is it just me, or is this beginning to sound like a self-fulfilling prophecy? Did our leader fear “failure” so much that he unknowingly engineered it? Well, that’s a topic for another day. Today let’s just gauge the effectiveness of losing your temper as a leadership technique.
For starters, I’m sure all you etymologists out there want to know, “where does the term ‘losing your temper’ come from?” To be battle worthy, swords are “tempered” thorough a heat treatment technique that makes the metal in them stronger and more effective. When a sword “loses its temper,” it breaks easily and becomes useless in battle. That just about says it all, doesn’t it?
I don’t know about you, but some of the worst mistakes I’ve made in my life have come right after I lost my temper. I truly did lose my strength and my effectiveness by indulging myself in this momentary impulse. No wonder our parents told us to “count to 10” to avoid saying anything in anger that we would likely later regret!
Followers look to a leader for strategic guidance and direction, especially during tough times. If leaders allow themselves to be out of control emotionally by losing their tempers, then they can’t think clearly and provide the leadership that their followers depend upon.
If you enjoy sports (one of our healthier current day substitutes for battle), watch a few of the all time winning coaches in action. How many times do you see them lose their tempers, stop thinking clearly, and give the game away through impulse and ineptitude? Not many, I’ll wager. That’s one of the reasons they got to be all time winning coaches, right?
Leadership in business or any other arena is no different. Leaders are wise to reject the short-lived immediate gratification of losing their tempers for the longer term gratification of keeping a clear head and making the decisions that lead to success for the team.
Anger is a normal and adaptive emotion that energizes and mobilizes us for action to solve a problem we’re facing. Repressing healthy anger altogether is not a good strategy; it just builds up to “burst” later and cause problems. Instead, just don’t forget to engage your rational thinking to supplement your angry emotional response. Follow the advice of my favorite mentor ever, who said, “Be artful with your anger.”
If you’re experiencing significant problems with losing your temper, give some thought to why you’re spending so much time feeling so angry that you aren’t in control of your emotions. When this pattern occurs, perfectionism and unrealistic expectations are most often the causes.
Technique #1: As a leader, resist the temptation to “lose your temper” when you are angry; just like an un-tempered sword you can become ineffective when it matters most.
Technique #2: When you are angry, take time to cool off (e.g.; count to 10) before you act. You will be thankful later when you’ve had time to reflect on the potential damage that an impulsive angry act could have caused (e.g., see the ready, fire, aim approach to decision making).
Technique #3: Be artful with your anger. Instead of letting it explode in an uncontrolled fashion, put it to a calculated and constructive use like achieving a worthy goal.
Technique #4: If you are having an ongoing problem with losing your temper, examine the possibility that you’re setting unrealistic goals that lead to inordinate amounts of anger and unhappiness.
Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.