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Temper your temper to be a better leader

Leadership can be an inherently emotional process. In the course of leading a company, you become invested in its strategic outcomes, employees and business processes. This level of personal investment can lead to emotionally charged situations that could cause you to lose your temper.

Unleashing your anger at work incurs considerable costs. Hot-headed leaders create workplace drama, can lose their credibility and often struggle with clouded thinking when it comes to making business decisions.

If you’re a leader with a temper, use these best practices to manage heightened emotions in the workplace.

Getting angry at work: The costs of being a leader with a temper

Whether you’re leading a project team or an entire company, you’ll inevitably encounter situations that you can’t control. Frustration from challenging business situations can boil over into explosive displays of anger.

Anger is a healthy emotion that signals that something is upsetting. It exists to force you to react and make changes.

However, leaders who express anger at work are in danger of damaging their reputation, both inside and outside the company. If your mood is unpredictable, over time you might be pegged as a volatile leader.

Your leadership style can also stress your workforce and lead to poor performance and a high turnover rate among your staff. Dealing with difficult employees impairs business processes and takes up energy better spent on improving the company bottom line.

Ignore your anger management issues, and you run the risk of becoming the negative employee who is the source of dysfunction for your company.

How can you stop yourself from losing your temper at work?

The most common ways leaders display anger at work are in written communications and face-to-face personal interactions. Handling challenging work situations includes embracing self-awareness and resorting to more productive alternative courses of action.

Here are six best practices to help you deal with work situations that cause your temper to flare up.

1. Pause what you’re doing, and take a break.

Removing yourself from the situation keeps you from giving in to the temptation to communicate while still angry.

When you’re angry in person, execute a graceful exit by saying something like: “I’m getting upset about (insert situation here). I need to cool down a bit, but then let’s discuss this issue later because it’s important to resolve.”

If you react to written communication and find yourself angrily composing a response, don’t send it.

Anger activates the emotion centers of the brain, which makes it challenging to think logically. Take the time to recover and regain your critical thinking skills before responding.

Once you say or send potentially hurtful words, you can’t “un-ring the bell.” Take a strategic break to help you regain control of your emotions.

2. Own up to your anger.

Acknowledging your reaction to a stressful situation reminds your staff that you’re human. Sharing your vulnerability can be a powerful leadership tool, especially if you use it as a teachable moment for yourself and others.

Find other ways to deal with your emotions instead. Take time for yourself, try breathing exercises, walk around your building, share your thoughts with a confidant or write down your thoughts privately.

Alternatives can give you the time and space to examine and understand your emotional triggers.

3. Avoid making assumptions.

The person who upset you may be unaware of what they did to make you angry. The email with unfavorable news may omit important details.

An emotional outburst in face-to-face personal interactions can seem to appear out of nowhere. Before reacting, take the time to gather facts and try to understand multiple points of view.

For example, if you’re losing control of your emotions in a meeting, resist the temptation to react angrily as a means to regain control of the upsetting situation. Instead, strive to learn as much as you can about the issue that upset you.

4. Learn how to manage your emotions – especially when under pressure.

Anger is a powerful emotion, and when someone is under duress, it often only exacerbates the situation. However, you can train yourself to react better in stressful situations, which can lead to more favorable outcomes when anger strikes in less challenging scenarios.

The key is to increase your emotional intelligence (EQ).

EQ is the awareness of how emotions can drive our behavior and impact people both positively and negatively.

Developing your emotional intelligence is something savvy leaders do to manage emotional employees. That same knowledge can be applied for enhanced self-awareness.

Investing in your emotional intelligence will not only help you manage employees who don’t get along, it will help you become a better, more self-aware leader.

Lastly, remember that yelling is not the only form of anger. Avoid passive-aggressive tactics, such as making snide remarks. Passive-aggressive comments, whether in writing or person, shouldn’t be dismissed as an attempt at a joke. If the intent is to demean or undercut someone, that behavior constitutes bullying and can get a leader in trouble.

5. Consider leadership training.

A business owner likely launched their company because they’re passionate and excel at something. Once that startup grows, leaders often find themselves under pressure and needing new skills.

If you have an ongoing issue with your temper, examine the possibility that you could be setting unrealistic goals for yourself. That tension can lead to anger and unhappiness.

A certified life or leadership coach can help you examine the larger dynamics that could be contributing to your stress.

6. Practice self-care.

Parents learn that children who have healthy routines often behave better. Leaders are no different.

Adopt the habits of successful leaders for better results at self-control:

  • Start your day in a proactive (not reactive) mode. Take the time before work to set your intentions. Being intentional can help you prepare for what happens each day.
  • Give your body what it needs: enough sleep, healthy food, exercise and breaks throughout the day.
  • Streamlining routine decisions can reduce “decision fatigue,” the deteriorating quality of decisions leaders make in a long day of decision making.

    Some leaders wear the same type of clothes as one way to reduce the number of decisions needed each day. Automate as many inconsequential decisions as you can to free up your brain for the important ones.

What should you do if you lose your temper?

For some of us, losing our temper is inevitable. Here’s how to handle it when you do:

  1. Calm yourself down.
  2. Once you’ve calmed down, think about how you will leverage vulnerability-based trust and leadership to make amends.
  3. Approach the person you offended and apologize.
  4. Calmly explain why you became frustrated.
  5. Focus on the event or outcome that triggered your anger, not the person. Avoid making it personal or casting blame.

It’s important to acknowledge you lost your temper and explain why. You might not realize it, but some employees can view leaders as superhuman. Your vulnerability in the face of a less-than-positive moment can become a teachable moment for you and your staff.

Avoid the temptation to sweep it under the rug, because the employee won’t forget your outburst. Aim instead for a productive outcome from the experience.

Is it ever a good idea to show your temper at work?

Showing staff that you’re passionate about the company and project results is a good thing. Becoming angry isn’t.

When angry, it’s too easy to lose control and say or do things that you might regret later. If you decide to show your emotions, remain focused on your intention and maintain control.

Direct your frustration to an action or situation, never a person. This can help reduce feelings of defensiveness, while allowing you both to focus on solving the problem. Effective sports coaches use this technique carefully to motivate a team when they need to rally in the face of unfavorable odds.

This should be implemented sparingly, as anger is difficult to control. Losing your temper can, over time, drive your team to play it safe, so as not to incur your wrath. Productivity loss – and ultimately, the loss of your position – isn’t worth the price of showing your anger in the workplace.

If you’re still tempted to display anger at work, consider your legacy after you leave your leadership position. How do you want your employees to remember working with you: an inspiring boss or an intolerable leader with a temper?

No leader is perfect, but great leaders work toward a better version of themselves. If you’d like more ideas on how to become a leader that inspires, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.