Spock-Like

When I was a kid growing up it seems like my mother was always cooking something in a pressure cooker. I have no recollection of exactly what food she was preparing; I just remember the mystique of the pressure cooker. I think I must have been warned that there was an inherent danger with this device and I never wanted to stand too close. It’s possible that I was told that the thing could blow up at any second and I would be maimed by flying shrapnel, pork chop bones or some other lethal object. In retrospect, I think this admonition was one more way to keep me out of the kitchen while Mom was cooking dinner.

Anger is like the pressure cooker. It can simmer for a while and then seemingly explode in an unpredictable manner. From a physiological standpoint, the amygdala is the part of our brain that is the culprit. When the amygdala sounds the alarm to the body that something is present that will make us angry, our adrenal glands start pumping and testosterone is also produced. We begin speaking in a louder and more rapid voice. Our muscles tense, our cheeks flush and our heart starts beating faster. Anger is the ticket to higher risk for heart disease, and it also accelerates the aging process as well as decreases lung functions. Pure and simple – anger isn’t good for us.

Here’s the thing. It takes a superhuman effort not to get angry, especially when things aren’t going as planned. Now think about leadership and anger. Is there a productive correlation? The answer is obvious. To be strong and effective leaders we must curb our temper. Perhaps we’ve experienced the type of boss who has a hair trigger. When he goes off the meltdown is epic. His face gets beet red. He yells and screams. There may be a plethora of profanities laced throughout his diatribe. In extreme cases he may even shove files and papers to the floor or even throw something. What is the usual result of such a tantrum? There’s a general feeling of embarrassment and a specific sympathetic reaction to the party that is bearing the brunt of the boss’s emotion. Everyone keeps their head down and makes a detour away from the boss for the rest of the day. Overall, morale is destroyed. Fear is palpable. Is there any silver lining here? The simple answer is, no.

If all of the preceding is true, what is the point in getting angry? You guessed it – there is none. Do we truly feel better after we get angry? Do we enjoy the headache that ensues; the elevated blood pressure, and increased anxiety? I’ve worked for decades at “lengthening my fuse.” Those who have known me for a long time can attest to the fact that I rarely get mad anymore. This doesn’t mean that I’ve become a pushover. I’ve just learned that the toll that anger takes on my colleagues and me is just too high.

Here’s what I’ve discovered. When something is about to trigger an anger response I recognize the need to become stoic. A stoic is defined as “a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.” Think Mr. Spock in Star Trek or Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption. I have also come to realize that maintaining a positive mindset in every circumstance is critical to problem solving. Anger is a negative emotion and does nothing to get to a solution. This doesn’t mean that I don’t feel disappointment or even a momentary flash of “extreme dissatisfaction.” But staying in such a feeling is poisonous in every respect and is not the way I want to model for others.

Temper tantrums are for little kids and are usually best ignored. The best leaders are able to control their emotions and help their team move in a positive direction no matter what.

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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.