Anger, Now With Less Stupid

Mad love to the Government Executive online venue, GovExec.com, for great content. My only complaint is that I hate hate hate online video and audio podcasts. Maybe this is one the subtle differences between me as a Gen X early adopter of information technology and a proper digital native. If I wanted to hear or watch things, I would turn on the radio or the TV. I want still pictures and text out of my internet experience, by gum. When I find out that the headline I’ve clicked on is trying to direct me to watch or listen to content without offering me a transcript instead, I turn up my nose and click away.

What broke my resistance to multimedia content was the promise of a discussion of how managers can use their anger effectively in the workplace without being stupid. This is a topic near and dear to my heart since I have only seen one or two leaders manage to channel their wrath productively over the course of my government career. “Why Leaders Need to Learn How To Get Angry Without Being Stupid” was the headline that got me to listen to Scott Eblin interview Harry Evans, co-author of Step Up: Lead In Six Moments That Matter. In case you are likewise podcast-averse, the upshot of their conversation was that there are “moments” in any organization that make or break leaders, and a big one is what leaders do when they are angry. Controlling anger is critical, but using it effectively can serve as a catalyst for growth and improvement. To avoid doing dumb things with anger, Evans advises three things:

  1. Admit that you’re angry. You lose credibility if you lie.
  2. If others fail to share your anger, don’t take it as a sign that they don’t care enough to be angry. Lobbing accusations about others not caring is a sure way of making people defensive. Instead, explain what makes you angry in a way that invites others to share in your passion.
  3. Direct feelings toward ideas or actions, not toward other people

This sounds pretty smart. Worth listening to people talk on my computer, even.

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Failing Successfully

At work, I’m on the board of an organization that supports the advancement of women into senior positions in my federal agency. Some time in the next month, I am supposed to host an informal brown-bag on the topic of failure. Failure is a topic near and dear to my heart. Professional and personal failures have taught me lots. Sometimes I imagine developing an instruction manual for failure akin to the Handbook For The Recently Deceased in “Beetlejuice.”

There were two posts this weekend that piqued my interest in this regard. One was the Washington Post item April 25 about Martha Johnson, the former director of the General Services Administration who resigned in 2012 in the wake of a scandal. The other was a recently released study of professionalism in the U.S. military circa 1970. Two thoughts occur to me:

  • Encountering professional near-death experiences at the beginning and middle of your career is a blessing, assuming you learn from your mistakes and the reactions of others. I am eager to read Martha Johnson’s book to see what her experiences were earlier in her career. The people I know who have suffered the worst from career catastrophe have been people who never crashed and burned until they were already in senior positions.
  • Failing to analyze mistakes and missed opportunities is a major source of future failure. I recall participating in an exercise at the Army War College in 2000 and being blown away by the military culture of after-action reviews, in which all parties were encouraged to discuss what went right and wrong in a given activity. I don’t know how many of the recommendations from the study were implemented, but I wonder how many federal agencies have undertaken similar studies.

I would love to hear about personal or institutional episodes of failure and recovery from your experiences. Will you share?