“Our greatest power is the freedom to choose our response.”
This is a quote from Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning and a survivor of the Holocaust.
When I think of the response of leaders to situations, I believe two totally opposite responses can be appropriate.
A very successful businessman once told me that when he was angry at another person, he would write a letter telling that person exactly how he felt, leaving no stone unturned. He would then tear the letter up, wait a day, and rewrite it. By waiting a full day, his anger would usually dissipate and he could write a more humane, rational reply. There is certainly a great deal of wisdom in this approach, especially when responding to a criticism that comes to you in writing.
On the other side of the coin, I once read an article written by the late Bill Walsh, former NFL coach, titled “Two Cheers for Pissed Off.” Being of Irish descent and having coached for forty-four years, I liked this article!
I think there is merit to this response, with three disclaimers:
• Your anger must be genuine. I have worked with some leaders who feigned anger. I don’t think that ever works. If you’re mad, be mad!
• I think being passionate about your beliefs is perfectly okay. If someone is attacking something you strongly believe in, and are doing it in an abusive way, why not let them know in no uncertain terms how you feel?
• Finally, it is always best to have your anger directed at the issue, not the person. I felt this was especially critical in coaching. The coach can get after what was done wrongly, not who did it.
Our meetings in athletics at the university where I worked for thirty-four years were often very spirited. People were passionate about their beliefs and said how they felt. But it was about the issue, not the person. The talk was candid and sometimes rough but we left the meetings as the friends we were.
I definitely believe open, truthful discussion is always best. Leaders can choose their response and both containing your anger and letting it show can be appropriate. The key is the issue, not the person.