A promising young division general manager, lets say Tom, was up for a promotion. However, his
promotion was being questioned due to complaints from direct reports and peers who were subject to angry
outbursts and hostile emails. There were concerns on the upper levels about his suitability for increased
responsibility and visibility, given his problems with anger management.
Unbeknownst to Tom, people were walking on eggshells around him, even during times when relationships
seemed to be amicable. Even people with whom Tom thought he had good relationships believed they had
to be careful around him. On good days, Tom could be a productive, cooperative member of the team- even
extremely likable. But, one never knew when that next outburst or biting email would occur.
According to Kerry Patterson, author of Crucial Conversations, People who blow off anger at work in
unhealthy ways are often unaware of exactly how they affect others. Theyre also often unaware of how their
outbursts are affecting their own reputations. Even with leaders or coworkers who only occasionally lose
their temper, it can quickly become their defining feature.
Upon becoming aware of this problem through a frank conversation with his boss, Tom sought help from an
executive coach and began making progress. However, his road was difficult because people were reluctant
to see that his temper problems were decreasing. Tom had to learn to persist with new, more tempered
behavior in spite of few compliments. Isnt that an interesting word, tempered? He had to restrain his temper.
Eventually, Tom was able to manage his anger at an acceptable level. His career was not permanently
derailed. This good outcome was in part due to some good communication. The boss had struggled with
how to approach Tom; and after reflection, he managed to communicate this sensitive issue in a supportive,
non-confrontational way that Tom could hear focused on how it was limiting his ambitions for career
The executive coach urged Tom to talk frankly with peers and direct reports to help them understand that he
was working on managing his anger better and wanted their help. Tom asked them to speak up when they
thought he was out of line. Some did that and their feedback was a great gift to Tom. Being aware, as soon
as possible, after a slip enabled Tom to apologize for coming on too strong and to reframe his forcefulness
into passion for the project.
Copyright 2009, by William R. Murray, President of Eagle Alliance Executive Coaching, LLC. Reprint
rights granted to all venues so long as this article and by-line are printed intact with all links made live.
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