Anger Is Not a Leadership Skill

Over the past couple of weeks I have interacted with people who work for small business owners who aren’t such great bosses. In fact, they are downright angry and mean. I can’t help wondering what they are hoping to accomplish. Yelling at people, demeaning them, using nasty language – none of these are leadership tactics, nor are they effective.

You don’t get people to perform at their best when you spend your time beating them down. Fear is not a motivator. This behavior isn’t something that is learned in leadership training courses. It comes from one of a couple of places – insecurity, fear or mistrust. I submit that you can’t be successful if you operate from any of these platforms.

angry boss

As a manager or business owner, ask yourself a couple of key questions:

1. What do you expect from your employees? Individually and collectively?
2. What resources do they need from you in order to meet or exceed those expectations?
3. What are the consequences – good and bad – of meeting, exceeding or missing the expectations?
4. How well have you communicated #1-3 to your employees?
5. How well have you maintained #3 – followed through with consequences?

When you move away from insecurity, fear or mistrust and just answer those questions, you take the emotion out of the business, and therefore out of your behavior. Clear and consistent communication is key to business success. I should add that unemotional communication is critical. When you want people to accomplish something, you have to give them the tools and resources they need. One of those is encouragement. Another is support. And the most important is believing in them.

If you are insecure or fearful, keep it to yourself. It’s not your employees’ problem, and taking it out on them is only going to make things worse. You’re setting yourself up for failure. And you run the real risk that the good employees will leave. They know they don’t have to be treated that way. You’ll be left with no one, or the less- than-stellar performers. Not much of a strategy for success, is it?

If you don’t trust your employees to do their jobs, why did you hire them? I mean it! Hiring right is the first step. When you know the answer to #1 above you can set out to find people who can meet those expectations. You can’t hire just anyone. You have to hire the right people.

The next step is reminding yourself of your goals and vision – and that communication is critically important to achieving them. A couple of Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” apply to this very topic. The first is to “Be Proactive.” This is where you choose not to be angry. You choose how you are going to communicate, based on what outcome you wish to achieve. The next is “Begin With the End in Mind.” Keep your goals and vision top of mind. Before you say or do anything, ask yourself if what you are about to say or do will help you achieve your goal. If not, don’t do it!

Lastly, “Think Win-Win.” This speaks to understanding that when your employees are successful, you are successful. You want to be sure your people have the tools and resources they need to be successful. When you are communicating in a positive, empowering way, you are helping your employees succeed. If you can’t find a way to treat people with respect and encouragement, hire a manager to handle the staff. That’s being proactive and solving a problem. Don’t let your behavior destroy your company.

When we look at leadership this way we can see that anger has no place; it plays no role in leading your employees toward success – theirs or yours. You know those companies I mentioned at the beginning of this article? The good employees left to find a better experience someplace else. The companies were left scrambling to survive. All because the “leadership” was angry.


Diane Helbig Diane Helbig is a Professional Coach and the president of Seize This Day. Diane is a Contributing Editor on COSE Mindspring, a resource website for small business owners, as well as a member of the Top Sales World Experts Panel at Top Sales World.

30 Reactions
  1. I’ve had quite a few terrible bosses, and most of them were the owners of businesses rather than managers. Hopefully, when it is time for me to be a boss, I will not repeat their errors and will be able to answer the questions you pose.

    Bob Sutton – who has written extensively about horrible bosses – has a quiz to help people determine if they have bad bosses. It’s great:

  2. I think a big thing is for SMB owners to remember that employees are assets to be valued and not costs to be minimized. This mindset can lead to many detrimental behaviors and ties in strongly with your point about Win-Win situations. Hopefully you can create an environment where everyone wins.

  3. As the saying goes, you catch more bees with honey than you do vinegar. As an image consultant for small businesses, I have seen my share of mean business owners. They need training, anger management courses and human resource skills to learn effective management skills.

    Excellent article with excellent advice. I will most definitely recommend this website next time I witness another out of control small business owner yelping at their employees.

    Thanks for the advice.

    Sherry Trenee’

  4. Martin Lindeskog

    If the boss understands the importance of the trader principle, he / she will act accordingly and become a great leader.

    Diane: You mention goals and vision and Stephen Covey. Have you studied the works of Edwin A. Locke? He has been the pioneer of the goal-setting theory for a very long time.

  5. It is truly amazing how we all can recount experiences with bad bosses; experiences of our own and of others.

    Martin, I have not studied Edwin A Locke. I’ll definitely be looking him up. Thanks for the info.

  6. Martin Lindeskog


    You are welcome. Best premises with your studies.

    I think that anger management is best conducted by straight communication sessions with involved parties. How about sitting down at a table, having a cup of tea and talk about stuff?

  7. Diane, I have seen the same thing. It’s not an epidemic, but it’s there. Nothing good comes from anger whether in business or life.

  8. Thank goodness it isn’t an epidemic. However as the economy starts to turn around, those good employees are going to leave the toxic environments and go work where they are appreciated and treated fairly.

    I tell my clients all the time that the only emotion allowed in business is passion.

  9. Martin Lindeskog

    Diane: Talking about passion, what do you think about Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion?

  10. Still reading it Martin and loving it! It is all about passion, isn’t it?

  11. Martin Lindeskog

    Yes, it is. It is how I started You will understand it (the tea thingy) when you have read the book… 😉 Please send me an email when you have finished it. Thanks!

  12. Great article; however, I thought it was interesting – especially since the author is a woman – that in the photo the boss is a man and the employee (maybe the receptionist, judging from the headset?) is a woman.

  13. Trusssst me i deal with one daily! no leadership skills, straight out nasty and unprofessional.

  14. A happy boss is a happy business. Leaders teach through example, and should implement these tips. Great article!

  15. As the saying goes, you catch more bees with honey than you do vinegar. As an image consultant for small businesses, I have seen my share of mean business owners. They need training, anger management courses and human resource skills to learn effective management skills.

  16. Great article. I think this is more prevalent than most people acknowledge and so much of it stems from insecurity, lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. I find that my clients who have struggled with what may manifest as anger often is self-generated by not properly addressing issues in a timely manner. They lead with what I’ve termed the “avoid and tolerate” leadership style, which leads to frustration building up and then the outburst. I spoke with a business prospect who admitted as much to me yesterday.

    It’s unhealthy for them, the individual employees/team members who are the victims and the entire work environment becomes toxic and unproductive.

    That’s why the first lesson in the “Confident Leaders Training Camp” is on Emotional Mastery because so many of my clients have told me it was the most important lesson they learned from working with me.

  17. Rebecca Tversky (@realeesky)

    Even 1 or 2 angry incidents, especially without an apology, can spoil years of decent interactions. Angry outbursts negate positive comments, making any compliments seem like self-serving lies. A well-placed apology can help a bit, but the employee is never again able to completely trust the boss. Much better to end a discussion if anger is rising to allow fear and insecurity to be replaced with a focused plan to communicate.

  18. No excuse for yelling and overly angry, but it is a human emotion. And it’s not always about some deep-seated lack of self-0something or other. The employee could be lazy and lacksidaisical, coming in late, now very interested to meet deadlines, generally enjoying ‘slow time’ or some other many maladies small and large business onwers and maagers have to endure. Sometimes that gets the better of someone who has more at stake, or cares more about deadlines or objectives. It’s furstrating, and yes as humans frustration can erupt into anger.
    Many of you are parents – ever ‘erupt’ and get angry at your kids? Why? Low self-esteem and fear and low self confidence? No….you were frustrated and erupted from it. It’s human.
    NOT excusable, but happens.
    Now it’s time for balance….angry all the time bosses are a problem – the article is right on. Now and again frustrations – well hell, get in the game, run harder, try more, uncover what’s frustrating the other person…try to help out. Employees that don’t change their behavior also shouldn’t then be angry when a good bos (not angry or yelling) fires you. They dealt with their frustration properly – you didn’t get yelled at or pushed, but also don’t have a job with a smile. Balance for us all is best I say….

  19. Fascinating exchange! Mike, while I agree that anger is a human emotion I believe it is in the leader’s best interest to create clear expectations and consequences, communicate them often, and follow through on them. In this way, the ‘acksidaisical, late, uncommitted employee would be fired well before the leader had the opportunity to become frustrated or angry. And as Rebecca says, say you’re sorry. It goes a long way when heartfelt.

  20. Diane … You contradicted yourself in this statement “I should add that unemotional communication is critical…One of those is encouragement. Another is support. And the most important is believing in them”
    Encouragement, support and belief/faith are all based in emotion, specifically empathy and emotional awareness. Passion as you mentioned is also an emotion – again based in emotional awareness. A heartfelt apology can only be given a finite times – the scars remain and eventually build permanent barriers.
    And your #3 is an excellent point …. giving people a reason to change their behavior is key to that change.
    Kip … Studies have shown that when leaders show anger and sadness in appropriate situations, they are thought more highly of and more respected than those that only show anger. Anger, appropriate expressed, is valuable in the work environment.
    Good article and comments

  21. Shari, I appreciate your comments. In that statement about unemotional communication I am trying to convey that leaders do themselves and their business a favor when they keep their communication as even as possible. While encouragement support and belief are based in emotion, how they are conveyed is important.

    I’ve seen situations where being over zealous or enthusiastic has also done harm to the business. Having said all of this I agree that appropriate behavior in situations adds to the credibility of the leader. My overall point of the article is really directed at the alway angry, nasty ‘leaders’. These people do serious damage to their companies without realizing it.

  22. Having been the recipient of the yelling, demeaning put downs (both personal and professional), name calling, slander and defamation of character, etc., and watching my co-workers be subject to it so much that we all eventually quit, I know exactly how I don’t want to be. There are many, many “managers/bosses/CEOs/Presidents” out there that need to be schooled in the way of treating their employees. There are also those responsible for supervising these “managers/bosses/CEOs/Presidents” who are just as much at fault when complaints are made to them either in writing or verbally and they do not address or investigate them. I now know what kind of questions to ask a perspective supervisor to ensure that something like this NEVER happens to me again.

  23. Wow Amelia, you raise a great point. The leadership is ultimately responsible for the conduct of their supervisors and managers. When they fail to act on complaints about abusive managers they are equally culpable.

  24. I think above everything, it’s important to set an example to your employees.

  25. I’m confused about what to do. I have a boss that I think is quite shy, quiet and socially awkward. He is also fairly new to the area compared to others (although this is his 2nd year) So on one hand I feel a bit sorry for him. But on the other hand I get the feeling he is threatened by me. I take pride in my work and have produced some good work. Meanwhile I get zero guidance or development support from him – all of it is self-initiated. When he does have to, it comes across like it is such a hassle to him and he does it very reluctantly. When I’ve been praised for my good work by other managers, he just sits there in silence and I wonder whether he is stewing over it. There has been quiet a high profile project that he is working on and that I would have liked to have also been involved in – they certainly need the help and I am willing and able to contribute. There is another guy who is working with him on the job, but I don’t think he has been performing and the other managers/directors have recommended that I help out. I am not sure whether he is not involving me in the work to protect this guy (they are sort of friends) or he fears I will produce better work than he has been and it will make him look bad. I have been sensitive about it all as I don’t want to make people feel insecure in their jobs and I think he lacks confidence (?) so I have made allowances. But now it is really impacting my own career development and I am wondering what to do?

  26. Wow Suzie you are in quite a situation. Did the other managers/directors suggest to you or your boss or both, that you help out? Also, how do you feel this is impacting your career development? Do you think that this high profile project would have been a good chance for you to shine? It sounds like the managers are fully aware of your value – including your boss. You could ask to have a conversation with your boss and share with him some of how you are feeling. For example, you can tell him that you’d like to work on the project and feel you could bring value to it. If he turns you down it’s an opportunity to ask him if there is something he is unhappy with you about. Chances are there isn’t. It does, however, give you an opportunity to share further and gently let him know that sometimes you get the sense that he feels put out when you ask for guidance. There’s no question that this can be tricky because if he is feeling insecure that could exacerbate it. If you believe that the rest of the leadership appreciates your value then you may decide to just continue to work as hard and as well as you do until an opportunity arises for you to change departments, move up the ladder, or leave for a better job. Insecure bosses are hard to overcome. What’s his boss like?