9 Reasons Angry Bosses Should Hold Their Tongues
John ShoreBesides here on Crosswalk, John blogs on JohnShore.com.
- 2010 Sep 24
Over the last thirty years, my wife Catherine has held senior management positions in banking, manufacturing, and non-profit companies. She's given a lot of thought to understanding how and why a manager works best.
Sometimes she writes down her ideas and insights about management. And I sometimes then ask her if she'd be willing to write an intro to that material, and allow me to use it as a blog post. (I've had so many truly awful bosses that I love the idea of in any way getting out into the world her ideas about how to do it right.) And sometimes (as she did with "10 Mistakes Even Good Managers Make") she says okay.
This is of those times. So … take it away, Cat!
Being a manager can be one of the most frustrating things in the world. You need your staff to work hard, work smart, and do relatively simple tasks—and so often they simply don't. Instead, they take much longer to do things than you expect, they make huge and costly mistakes that are easy to avoid, they communicate poorly, and they prioritize ineffectually.
They just don't do what you want them to. And of course that can be terribly frustrating. There isn't a manager alive who doesn't sometimes want to scream at a poorly performing employee something like, "Look, you dolt! This task it is so simple you must be purposely messing this up, because even as big of a screw-up as you can't possibly be this incompetent!" Feeling that kind of frustration at his or her staff is as much a part of the manager's job as brushing their teeth is a part of their daily routine. Having reason to feel angry a lot a lot of the time is an inescapable component of the management package.
Good managers, managers who care that the job they need doing gets done right, can often find themselves so frustrated that they blow-up at their staff. Oftentimes, they blow-up in front of others. But blowing-up at all, much less in front of others, is absolutely the most counter-productive management technique ever.
When you regularly, and especially publicly, show anger to your staff, here are nine extremely counter-productive things you're also doing:
1. You're training your staff not to think. Managers are often frustrated at their staff for not thinking things through. But by getting angry at them, you are actually training your staff to not think—because thinking requires confidence, and independence of thought. But when a mistake can result in a public dressing down, your staff will lack that confidence, and won't risk independent action. They'll stick to the safer, non-thinking way.
2. You're making your staff less productive. When someone shows anger at you, the natural human response is to show anger back at them. Because you are their boss, however, an employee toward whom you have shown anger cannot respond in kind. They can't have it out, and get over it. But their natural angry response doesn't go away. They usually won't say anything directly to you, but they will remain angry. And that anger will cause them to be unproductive. They will fume; they will stew; they will think about quitting; they will be angry at the company—and, until their anger dissipates, they will be significantly less productive.
3. You're diminishing your own authority. When you are routinely angry at your staff, your staff will bond together for mutual comfort and solace. They will roll their eyes behind your back; they will give someone to whom you've been harsh a comforting hug. They will tell each other that they are right, and you are wrong. They will get into the habit of discounting what you say. They will do this because they are nice, and feel sympathy for the co-worker of theirs whom you, by showing them anger, have treated unfairly. They will do it because they are upset. After a while, now matter what you say or how you say it, your staff will be in the habit of thinking that you are wrong. Your authority, your ability to lead, will dissipate away.
4. You're causing your staff to lose respect for you. Losing your temper makes you look out of control. And no matter what other great qualities you may possess, no one respects anyone who can't control themselves.
5. You're giving your staff the message that it is okay to break company rules. Your staff knows that your behavior is not what is called for in the employee handbook. They see that you do not respect the rules, that you get away with breaking the rules, that, because you are in a supervisory position, you have even been rewarded for breaking the rules. When you blow up at them, the clear message that you send your staff is that in the company for which you all work, it is perfectly okay to break the rules, as long as you have the power to get away with it.
6. You're guaranteeing you won't be effective in your own responsibilities. If by blowing up at your staff you've made them dislike you, they'll watch you walk right toward an open manhole cover, and never utter a word of warning. Your staff might respect you; they might even like you; they might know that you are good for the company—but you are making their daily life miserable. Most people won't purposefully and actively do you wrong, but it is a rare person who will risk the anger you've proven yourself all too ready to display by putting their own day-to-day misery aside, and warning you that you are about to make a big mistake. Mostly they won't care if you make a mistake. If anything, they'll hope you do, so that maybe someone will yell blow-up at you the way you do to them.
7. You're undermining your staff's ability to work as a team. Because no one wants to be the one getting yelled at, your staff will compete with each other to be the one to whom you show the most favor. They will find that the best way to avoid your anger is to have it directed at someone else. This will cause them to start actively working against one another.
8. You're encouraging your staff to make the same mistakes over and over again. Everyone wants to be right, to not make mistakes. It is hard for people to change, because the first step in changing is to admit that whatever you were doing needs changing, that you've been in error. Admitting that you're wrong is hard enough under the best of circumstances. But when someone is angry at you, or you know is prone to being angry at you and others, then your tendency is to hunker down, dig in your heals, and grow ever more stubborn. It's a way for people who can't take flight to fight.
9. You're destroying morale. Every time you get angry at them, you make your staff hate their jobs.
Also, remember that it's not just about "blowing-up." Because people need their jobs to live—to actually obtain food, clothing, and shelter—everything you do as their boss becomes emotionally magnified. Every eyebrow you raise at an employee will feel to them like a shout; a sharpness in your tone will register as a major reprimand, a short flash of anger like a rage. It is an inescapable part of your role as a manager or supervisor that any display of anger will become an emotionally significant event to a member of your staff, for the simple fact that you hold their livelihood in the palm of your hand. And that power you have over them means that they cannot respond to your anger in kind. They can't fight back, because they know doing so could get them fired. So what happens? They take it. And taking it makes them feel humiliated. And humiliated is one of the worst ways any person can feel. If you routinely humiliate your staff by, to any degree, "blowing-up" at them, then their success, your success, and the company's success is certain to suffer accordingly.
John also blogs at JohnShore.com.
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