Leadership Tantrums – 15 Reasons to Keep Your Cool

Leadership tantrums seem to be more common these days, but all too often, throwing a fit makes things worse instead of better.  Maybe this short story and 15 great quotes about anger can help us keep our cool and lead better when we start to feel a little hot under the collar.

Leadership Tantrums

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I was just the messenger, but that didn’t matter.  The Major was angry, and he was letting me know it at full volume, at close range, in public.  I was a Captain; I had to stand there and take it.

I’ve no recollection of what the specific problem was, but in general my boss wanted something done on short notice.  His boss had agreed to do it.  The actual work fell to the red-faced Major directly in front of me, and he clearly wasn’t happy about it.  In delivering the necessary paperwork to get the ball rolling, I unwittingly stepped into the role of verbal punching bag for his anger.

I also don’t recall the Major’s exact words, but I remember his leadership tantrum as a kind of verbal sand-blasting:  lots of hot stinging words indiscriminately spewing out.  Much of what he said was exaggerated or uninformed, but he was clearly not open to correction from a junior officer at the moment.

What I do remember was his red face, the veins bulging on his neck and forehead.  The high volume.  There was also a little bit of spittle that formed on the left side of his lower lip. 

As his ranting went on, his words faded incomprehensibly into the background, like Charlie Brown’s teacher, but at max volume.  My mind began to wander.

“I wonder if he treats his own people this way.”
“Is this just a show he’s putting on for their benefit?“
“I hope that spit blob on his lip doesn’t fly out and hit me.”


My task was done – I had delivered the information, and now I just wanted to get out of there.  I was tempted to say something that would be technically acceptable coming from a lower ranking officer, like, “Will that be all, sir?” 

But real or imagined, he would certainly detect a hint of disdain or impatience in my voice, and renew his tirade.  I decided to just stand there mutely absorbing the blows.  Like Mohammed Ali’s rope-a-dope boxing tactic against George Foreman, I mentally leaned back against the ropes and let the Major tire himself out.

The spittle on his lip grew, and I watched it vibrate.  As it did, I started to feel sorry for him and how he was embarrassing himself.  I felt for his staff, who were trying to ignore the scene by pretending to focus on their work, or suddenly finding a reason to move to another part of the room.

Finally he ran out of steam, turned on his heel, and walked away, taking his spittle ball with him.  I was dismissed.

The Anger Effect

Whatever the mission was, it got done.  The Major’s leadership tantrum had no impact on the outcome.  But it left a strong impression on me.  If this experience was any guage, when people in leadership positions lose their head and succumb to their anger:

  • We think less of them for losing their poise
  • We tune them out if we are able
  • We question their self-discipline and maturity
  • We wonder at their ability to think clearly
  • We are grateful if we don’t work there
  • We are thinking about how to get away if we do
  • We think: the louder they rant, the more childish and ineffectual they seem to be

And I don’t think it’s just me.  Here’s what others have had to say about the effects of throwing leadership tantrums:

He who angers you conquers you. – Elizabeth Kenny Click To Tweet

Fire in the heart sends smoke into the head. – German Proverb Click To Tweet

Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind. - Robert Green Ingersoll Click To Tweet

The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk. – Jacqueline Schiff Click To Tweet

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret. – Ambrose Bierce Click To Tweet

The best fighter is never angry. – Lao Tzu Click To Tweet

A man is about as big as the things that make him angry. – Winston Churchill Click To Tweet

An angry man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes. – Cato The Elder Click To Tweet

The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength. – Marcus Aurelius Click To Tweet

A man in a passion, rides a mad horse. – Benjamin Franklin Click To Tweet

Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools. – Albert Einstein Click To Tweet

When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear. - Mark Twain Click To Tweet

The more upset a person is with other people and with circumstances, and the more satisfied he is with himself, the further he is from wisdom. - Leo Tolstoy Click To Tweet

The intoxication of anger, like that of the grape, shows us to others, but hides us from ourselves. – John Dryden Click To Tweet

First to anger loses the battle. Last to anger wins the war. – Alex Sauer Click To Tweet

Leadership Tantrums – The Takeaway

It was twenty-six years ago when the Major yelled at me.  The exact reason for his yelling quickly faded away, but the fact of his leadership tantrum is seared in my memory.  People will remember less about an incident and more about how we react to it. 

The lesson for me:  losing your cool is a poor way to lead.

Will a leadership tantrum solve the problem?  Usually not.  More likely it will just make us appear smaller.  Let’s wipe off the spittle, and get on with the business of leading.

Like a small child throwing an angry tantrum in the produce aisle:  the wise parent, unperturbed, continues with their shopping. 

Eventually, the child will learn.

Lead On!

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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