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Autumn Road

The 5 Minute Leader

  • Writer's pictureCarl Blanz

Is Anger Justifiable from a Leader?

Our emotions are tied to our immune system. Some of our emotions are meant to keep things out. Just like the immune system keeps a virus or infection out of the body. Anger is designed to keep a physical threat out of the immediate environment.


In one of Gabor Mate’s talks, he conducts a little experiment where he stands 5 feet away from a participant, and asks if it’s OK with them if he were to finish his presentation from that particular spot.


The participant looking confused, says, “Yes”. Then Gabor moves to 3 feet and asks the same question. “Yes” is the answer again. Then he stands inches away and asks the same question, at this point, you can tell the participant is beginning to feel uncomfortable and, wanting to play along says “Yes” again.


Then Gabor threatens to sit on their lap and ask the same question. By now, (because this is an experiment), everyone is laughing, but you can also feel that if this wasn’t an experiment, the participant would be fully enraged and acting to remove Gabor or themselves from the immediate environment.  


Healthy anger is designed to immediately change the environment and, has a short lifetime, around 15 – 20 seconds. Then the hormonal and chemical cocktail called anger has done its job and now (in order to stay healthy) should leave the body. Eckhardt Tolle tells the story of watching two ducks in a territorial battle, when it’s over, the ducks both squawk and flap their wings and swim away from each other – anger discharged.


When anger is not discharged, or lasts more than a few seconds after the threat is over, like when it’s a mood, or a personality type, it is known as unhealthy anger.


Anger is generated in the survival part of the brain. When angry, all of the blood and electricity the body can muster will go to the survival part of the brain, muscles and senses. Some of that blood and electricity was meant to be in the reasoning part of the brain, but because you don’t need reason when you are trying to survive, you all of a sudden don’t have access to it.


This is why it takes a while to re-enter the state of reason, and why your mom told you to count to 10 when you’re angry.


Unhealthy anger is about the past. It’s about a thought habit insisting you have been wronged and someone is going to need to pay in order to feel “not” angry. This unhealthy anger is also the source of physical distress, chronic ailments, reduced vitality and immunity…


It makes sense to have a healthy relationship to anger.


I was one of those angry types. Not all the time, but, a younger version of me let anger run its course without intervention. It felt safer to be angry than to express other more vulnerable emotions like hurt or confusion (actually it still feels safer, but with awareness, and some practice being vulnerable, I can usually wait for it to pass).


The intervention is to practice looking inside myself (aka awareness). This has taught me a life altering lesson and a few strategies for being less angry and more peaceful.


A life altering lesson:


Unhealthy anger is a fence that keeps me from experiencing fear.


Healing the angry part of me is about contacting and acknowledging fear, then making a choice more in alignment with my intention, which always includes to deepen relationships.


Strategy I: For dealing with anger in the moment, in public.


Keep unhealthy anger from manifesting as behavior.


This is about a commitment not to soil a relationship with anger.


Being a fairly big guy with a deep voice, I can scare the best of them with a facial expression. This is where counting to 10 or conscious breathing comes in.


And, because of the social norm called gossip, you and I can be sure that an angry behavior becomes a well told story with the angry person as the villain.


Strategy II: For healing and counteracting the anger habit, done in reflection.


Use anger as the key that unlocks the door to fear.


With anger, it’s helpful to not believe the story in your head.


Your ego (if it’s anything like mine) will come up with a thousand justifications and reasons why you should be angry. Instead, tune in to your bodily sensations, get to know what anger feels like in you.


Where is anger located in your body? What is the specific sensation do you feel when you’re angry?


For me, it’s a radiating sensation in my upper back, I can feel it coming on when it’s building and I can feel the jolt of it when it comes on instantaneously.  

When you are with people and this happens; buy yourself some time, take mom’s advice and count to 10, or excuse yourself, or slow your breath way down. (Strategy I above)


As a sidenote on breathing: One effective practice to increase your awareness and heart health is to breathe consciously. A daily practice of breathing consciously has provided muscle memory for me in slowing the breath down. This by the way, also improves my ability to listen to others. I’m currently using the ibreathe app. But you don’t need an app, just watch your breath in and out, start with 3 minutes every morning.


The really big picture here is about leading in ways that build connection, commitment and collaboration.  


Anger and fear do not build any of these things. As a leadership methodology, anger and fear are more likely to build animosity, compliance and competition.


Strategy III: For learning more about anger and what you can do to heal yourself


Start watching Gabor Mate on YouTube.


Strategy IV: For compassionate understanding and coaching around anger



So, is anger justifiable from a leader?


To experience it – absolutely yes.

To project it – unless the immediate environment is dangerous, no.

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