Don't Lose Your Cool
"Lose your temper and you have lost the game," says Sam Fox of the Harbour Group. In an era when e-mails and the Internet can spread news to anyone and everyone immediately, where voice mails are provided no legal privacy protection, and where business-by-subpoena has become business as usual, you can be sure that any time you let your emotion get the better of your reason, you are no longer invincible. Someone who does not have your best interests at heart will use your outburst against you. The era when you can fly off the handle on a regular basis is officially over. For that reason, the vast majority of invincible executives under the age of fifty say that they make minimal use of anger in the workplace. Many of those over fifty, like Stephen Lambright of Anheuser-Busch, have changed with the times, acknowledging that they have "mellowed" over the past several years. Lambright says he used to get mad a lot; now he has evolved to a point that he controls his temper much better than he once did.
Doug Bain of Boeing uses the "safety valve" approach to professional anger. When something incenses you at the workplace, first you "spout off to someone you trust," then you "calm down and determine if there is anything you can do about it." If so, you take reasoned action. Dave Ruf, CEO of Burns & McDonnell, puts a time limit on his anger: "You have the right to get upset for ten minutes," says Ruf—and then it is on to more productive pursuits.
Some organizations consciously cultivate a culture that dampens anger in the workplace. Earl Graves, the publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, started his career as an assistant to Robert F. Kennedy. He recalls Senator Kennedy had an absolute rule in his office: You do not blow up at people. Period. Some corporations also foster a "no anger" culture quite consciously. For example, I interviewed the CEO, president, and executive vice president of Marriott International for this book. Although the three interviews were separate, Messrs. Marriott, Shaw, and Ryan all said virtually the same thing about anger in the workplace: that Marriott fosters a culture that rejects incivility and public outbursts. As Bill Marriott put it, "There is a time when you can show displeasure, and you should show it only with the people who might have done something that you're not pleased with. I think doing it in a public forum or a large group of people, you just can't do it." Similarly, Marriott's president, Bill Shaw, said, "I think it is important that you are predictable, as far as your behavior, and people find it difficult to ... get behind a leader who is volatile and would have temper tantrums." Echoing the same sentiment, Marriott executive vice president Joe Ryan said, "To me, it is very hard to build a genuine team when anger and temper are all part of it."
A Special Note for Women
Juanita Hinshaw, CFO of the multibillion-dollar technology company Graybar Electric, gives a particular admonition against anger, temper, and aggression to women executives. She believes that many women try to imitate men and their testosterone levels in business. They "try to be men, imitating male mentors" and consequently "become overly aggressive in their business dealings." Hinshaw considers such an approach to be a big career mistake. "While women should be assertive, they cannot be as overtly aggressive as men," she claims. Consequently, women should use anger very "sparingly" or they will become resented, hated, and completely ineffective on the job. It is not fair that this rule applies even more to women than men, perhaps, but it is reality.