Barbara's Blog

You Are Only Human - How to Lead When Frustrated or Angry

Posted on 4/24/2017 by Barbara Blake in self coaching executive coaching leadership development executive coaching leadership

Getting frustrated or angry can happen to all of us. What matters is how we deal with these emotions and then determine what our reaction of frustration or anger says about us. Knowing oneself is the core of great leadership.

To become a good leader one must practice being a leader in every opportunity. To paraphrase a mantra from coach training,” to be a good leader, live like a leader”. Be a leader every moment. Sounds easy enough. A leader is calm, decisive, visionary, empathetic, a communicator etc. What a leader is makes for a long list. One description I don’t see in these lists is a leader is human. That means a leader can have strong emotions, be frustrated or angry. Quite the opposite of calm, empathetic and caring.

Feeling frustration or anger is not a bad thing. Being frustrated or angry are signals about you; your expectations and vision for yourself as much as what is in the environment around you. What you do with the frustration or anger distinguishes you as a leader.

Start releasing frustration and anger through physical activity. Move around, if sitting stand up and walk around. Take deep breaths. Massage your tight jaw or loosen your shoulders. Unlocking the stress takes you out of the moment and into a more neutral place.

Getting to this neutral place is critical. When you are in a calmer state tackle two tasks that prepare you for the real work; deciphering your role in creating and solving the situation that triggered your reaction initially. And plan what you will do to obtain a better outcome.

Task One is to boost the energy to your brain. When your brain is low on glucose you become more susceptible to frustration and anger. Some research suggests small amounts dark chocolate or nuts provide a quick glucose hit to provide the energy for your brain’s executive functioning. Find whatever food works for you. Have a supply handy (not only for stressful situations but whenever you need to feed the thinking part of the brain).

Task Two – assess your mental state. Neuroscience research has shown when we are in a strong negative emotional state the brain is less able to use the part of the brain associated with understanding, problem solving and other “executive functions”. Compounding this is the tendency to see links and associations that further build anger and frustration. You start down the negative story path that justifies your reaction.  Acknowledge where you are and label it. The emotional state of your brain combined with low energy supply to the executive function area of the brain ensures you are less able to tackle the questions you need to tackle to move forward.

Now you are ready to do the heavy lifting of uncovering the real reasons your frustration or anger. Let’s face it – it all starts with you because it is your reaction you must deal with first.  Start with a list of questions:

Was I clear on my expectations? Really?

Did I provide the right support? How do I know this?

Did I account for competing priorities or changes? What did I do about these?

Was I trying to control something that I have no control over?

Is this a case of “perfect storm” with a number of things hitting me a once so I was in a negative state already?

What did I learn from this? What will I do with this knowledge?

What questions do I have for my team?

Armed with answers and your questions you are now in a position to move forward to find a new way to resolve the issue, obtain the information you need, to influence others to complete tasks, in other words, leading.