Monday, February 22, 2010
The sin of Anger
The media have been full of the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown’s anger tantrums for the last few days. I even saw a clip of him saying that he had never hit anyone in his life. It’s all a storm in a thrown teacup one suspects. What the press are saying is that he is regarded as a bully. Well, I have worked with many Chief Executives in my life and very few, I’d conjecture, would get away with an unblemished record on this score. One person’s strong and confident leadership can easily be another person’s aggressive bogeyman. If Brown showed no inclination to demand his own way, the press would quickly have him down as a weak PM. Nothing worse in the public’s eyes.
And it’s not just a matter of style. There comes many a point in every week if you are at the top of the tree, when you have to make tough decisions. They can be about a range of issues from individual performance to strategic change. You may have to make people redundant or close a unit. The better you are at it, the more you appear as Attila the Hun, to many. As you will know from these columns, I have not found an organisation without its fair share of entropy. That is, staff underperforming, making mistakes, working at snail’s pace, taking the mickey and all the rest of it. British Airways, for example, is sinking into deeper debt. The most obvious recourse for management is to cut staff, as this is always the biggest single cost to an organisation. The cabin staff have shown an inclination to strike, thereby maybe ending the life of the airline and their own jobs. Postings have flown across the multi-faceted features of Facebook and each accuses the other of bullying. Gordon Brown and every Prime Minister before and after him, has to handle excessively controversial issues. Like all PMs he wants the best research, the best strategies, the best communication, the best decisions. At most what he will get will be patchy because that’s what people are like. He will stamp and shout in those circumstances where he can’t contain himself any longer.
Anglo Saxons have big hang-ups when it comes to displays of passion. I doubt whether Italians or French would bat an eyelid at their Presidents or PMs having a hissy fit. And what does it say about the so-called bullied staff? Why don’t they stand up to the yelling and accusations of incompetence? Or are their fragile egos unable to cope with the heat of the governmental kitchen? Worse, are they claiming to be bullied because they know they don’t measure up and can’t bear the criticism?
We have to be realistic about human beings. In the main we can run our companies and departments using charm, reason and sets of protocols and procedures. We can stamp our authority where and when it matters. But, occasionally, if the heat is really on, we can end up stamping our feet and letting rip with one of the seven deadly sins. Anger.