If You’re Not Angry, You Can’t Be An Effective Leader

Photo by Thomas Hawk


Are you angry? I certainly hope so. If you’re not angry, I guarantee this – you can’t be an effective leader and I’m going to explain why shortly.

You might be wondering if I’ve lost it. Far from it.

I recently came across this quote,

“Anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything.”

On the surface of it, many would agree with that sentiment. However, I couldn’t disagree more.

Despite what some might tell you, anger isn’t the bad guy. Anger isn’t something to suppress. Anger isn’t anything to be ashamed of.

For many years, a very dear friend of mine battled with a “nice guy” image. He thought that the only way to get on in this world and achieve his potential was to please everyone. He figured only criminals got angry or men who beat their wives or leaders who bullied their people.

Whenever he got angry, he felt shame and did his best to deny it or limit it. Unfortunately, he could only do that for so long, which meant that inevitably he would sometimes erupt.

The reason, I know all of this about this friend is because that friend was ME.

Thankfully, I’ve since discovered that anger is a wonderfully powerful human emotion that can be an incredible force for good. The problem isn’t anger. The problem is that so many people don’t know how to control and channel that anger.

In leadership, the difference between a passive leader, or a passive-aggressive leader, or an aggressive leader, and an assertive leader is their relationship with anger.

Stay with me and I’ll show you how a healthy relationship with anger is one of the keys to you becoming an effective leader; in other words, one who is assertive, engaging, transformational, and delivers great results.

Is Anger Necessary?

In the preface of my book, Leading from Your Core, I share this story…

“My first experience of working closely with very senior leaders in business was a defining one for me. It was a few years after graduating. I had been hired as a train systems engineer and accepted on to the graduate development programme of an engineering and construction firm with responsibility for a multi-billion-pound schedule of improvement and maintenance of the London Underground.

I didn’t really enjoy the engineering side of the role, but I was lucky. Only eighteen months into the programme, I secured a six-month placement to shadow the managing director of our sister company.

I attended many key meetings, including some board meetings and one-to-ones, and engaged in various projects with senior leaders and middle managers, on behalf of the managing director. I observed what it was like to be at the helm of an organisation – the power, the authority, the resources at your disposal – and to be completely honest, I didn’t always like what I saw.

The managing director, in particular, was extremely intelligent and experienced, yet he had a reputation for berating the life out of those working for him. If he felt someone was incompetent and hadn’t done something to his standard, they would know it, along with every other person within earshot of them. He instilled fear into many as he asserted his authority and intelligence.

Even though I got on well with him, enjoyed our one-to-one conversations, and learnt a ton during the six-month stint, after that experience, I promised myself that if I ever had a chance to lead people – choosing between leading by asserting my authority, intelligence, superiority, and power or from a place of genuine, positive influence – I would choose the latter.”

Some people miss the point of the story and think the answer is to have NO anger and all become nice and cuddly.

Not at all! We absolutely need anger in our lives.

If someone were to hurt my loved ones, or steal something really important to me, or do something that goes against my core values, don’t expect me to say,

“Thanks for hurting my son.”

“Thank you for bashing into my wife’s car.”

“Thank you kindly for breaking into my house.”

“Thank you so much for reinforcing racial prejudice.”

When you have a healthy relationship with anger, it can be one of the most powerful and loving forces in the world.

Anger stops wars.

Anger fights injustice.

Anger drives innovation.

Anger fuels revolutions.

Anger inspires change.

Anger culls abuse.

Anger overcomes bureaucracy.

Is the Expression of Anger Always Healthy?

Research shows that suppressed anger can be an underlying cause of anxiety or depression. In fact, when it’s not expressed appropriately, anger can affect our thinking and behaviour, negatively impact relationships, and can even lead to high blood pressure, skin disorders, and heart problems.

The clear message is that anger needs to be expressed and not suppressed. The challenge, of course, is to do it in a healthy way.

To determine whether your expression of anger is healthy, you need to ask yourself:

Am I in control of my anger or is my anger in control of me?

Am I at the whim of my every emotion and every circumstance?

Is this about my ego or about a greater cause that will benefit others?

When you’re not in control of your anger and when it is about your ego, on the extreme end, it shows up as:







Interestingly, not being in control of our anger, can also show up in passive ways. For example, when we don’t give ourselves permission to be angry, we stuff our anger and become emotionally dishonest or distant or apologetic. It can also show up in passive-aggressive ways in the form of trolling, blaming, cynicism, procrastination, resentment.

The number one difference between healthy anger that you’re in control of and destructive, selfish anger that controls you is whether your motive is self-serving or for the benefit of someone else.

Do You Have a Healthy Relationship with Anger?

Leaders can relate to anger in 4 different ways:

  1. Deny – Passive leaders deny their anger. They are often blaming and apologetic and indirect in their communication.
  2. Limit – Passive-aggressive leaders limit their anger. They too are often indirect and subtle in their communication. They might be self-denying at first, but with a view to getting their own way later.
  3. Erupt – Aggressive leaders are inappropriately honest in their communication. They mostly direct their anger towards people in an eruption that results in stifling and controlling others. They typically insist on their rights above the rights of others.
  4. Channel – Assertive leaders channel their anger towards making circumstances or situations better for themselves and others. That means in the heat of the moment they take the time to pause and ask themselves, “what really matters here?” They are respectful of their own rights and the rights of others. They keep their ego in check. They do this by playing a different game and having big dreams for their people.

Assertive leaders get mad at injustice and inequity and they use their anger to do something about it. They get mad at poverty and they use their anger to create innovative products and solutions that create opportunities for people to engage in meaningful work

Sadly, a lot of the world has lost the plot on anger. And a lot of what we’re taught, boys especially, is that anger is bad.


A lack of anger makes us passive victims in life. Anger is a healthy part of life and a healthy part of leadership.

Put simply, anger’s message is that something isn’t right here, boundaries have been crossed, and something needs to be done about it.

The key is to know how to control it, channel it, and respond with purpose.

And that means giving yourself permission to be angry, respecting your own rights, as well as the rights of others, and doing everything in your power to make circumstances or situations better.

A Healthy Dose of Anger

What are you mad at? What are you sick and tired of? What gets you insanely ticked off?

Personally, I get mad at ego-centric leadership. I get absolutely angry at organisational structures and policies that get in the way of people being at their best. I’m sick and tired of toxic and non-inclusive cultures.

That and my passion for leadership drive a lot of the work that I do.

Bringing about positive change in our world, building healthy and vibrant organisations, establishing innovative and inclusive communities requires a good old-fashioned dose of anger because there are tons of difficult and persistent obstacles that won’t give up without a fight, so to speak.

If you want to be an effective leader then it’s essential that you have a healthy relationship with anger.

Remember “ARC” and you can’t really go wrong:

  1. Accept – Anger is normal and healthy, so accept it and give yourself permission to be angry. The best leaders have a healthy relationship with anger. They know that anger can be a form of fierce compassion – protecting what is good, protecting those they love, protecting their values.
  2. Respect – Anger is power. With great power comes great responsibility. To ensure that that power doesn’t destroy the good around you, respect yourself and others, and keep your ego in check.
  3. Channel – Channel your anger towards making circumstances or situations better. When channelled in this way, anger can be one of the most loving and powerful forces in the world.

So, I hope you’re angry. Our world needs it.

Here’s to personal mastery, transformed lives, and a better world.

#leadership #management #emotionalmastery

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