January 19, 2015

When it's Right to Get Angry.

This week we hear from Lauren Ruef our Social Media Specialist who directs our Leadership Excellence Blog. She tackles the challenging subject of anger and how to properly yield this powerful emotion for good.

Anger is an estranged emotion in this day and age of leadership. It’s considered unpleasant, something we “shouldn’t show” and so we distance ourselves from it. But when we look at the most influential leaders in history, we see how the emotion is effectively harnessed. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was familiar with two kinds of anger: the kind that moves and motivates others, and the kind that corrupts. The first kind he demonstrated, the second he faced in the form of racism. He is remembered for his impassioned confrontations with injustice. Jailed, beaten, threatened and ultimately martyred for his relentless pursuit of a better future for people of color, he said this of a leader’s relationship to anger:

“The supreme task [of a leader] is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force.”

Dr. King was a voice for the oppressed. As such, he exhibited a rare kind of anger. He was loud, impassioned, and absolutely unapologetic in the face of a known evil. There was no room for shrinking violets at a time in American history when a paradigm shift was taking place. The tides were turning in favor of equality, and he fought with his own life for even an inch of that progress. What he achieved shortly thereafter, was a landslide.

When we mention anger, it is with stereotypically negative undertones. Maybe we see our coworkers spewing negativity after a client phone call and call it “blowing off steam” or a mother screaming at her kids in the grocery store aisle. We don’t see the constructive benefits of anger in these two scenarios, but beyond an uncontrolled emotion,  it can be a force for good.

Anger creates momentum in a specific direction. It’s the same as when water molecules heat up and a pot begins to boil. Reactions happen, heat is created, and onlookers are forced to pay attention. When we understand the social chain reactions caused by anger, we can see it displace others from their comfort zone. It shakes things up, and incites a response.

Anger has its place in the life of every leader, but it must be used within contained spaces, in the right way, directed to the appropriate audience. When it’s a knee-jerk, uncalculated response with far-reaching consequences, anger can quickly get out of hand. The important difference is treating anger with respect and intent, not wielding it as mere instinct. It’s hard to maintain self-control. It’s even harder to sacrifice your reputation for what you think is right. Ask yourself this question. What is my relationship to anger?

Do I explode instead of exercising self-control to communicate my true feelings?

Do I get angry merely for effect, to be louder than my opponent, or do I have a message worth delivering in that manner?

Do I use anger to manipulate others, or to reveal an unexpected truth?

What stirs the pot for me? Is it when I’ve been offended or when someone else has been taken advantage of?

That last question stirred up some thoughts in me. What if I was more angry when others were hurt than when someone did something rude to me? What if the needs of others superseded my own? How could I treat my clients and coworkers differently to reflect this change? There are moments to get angry, as there are moments to use restraint. We need wisdom to know the difference.

To your excellence in doing what is right,

Lauren Ruef

Coachwell Social Media Specialist