What if you lead, but know you’re a hothead?


Outbursts of anger. Verbal aggression. We will no longer take it from leaders. Whether it concerns House Speaker Arib, Minister Wiersma or your own boss, they must behave normally.

Experts believe that managers should raise their voices ‘just once’. Provided they apologize afterwards. But those who let themselves go too often end up on the couch at home.

What if you lead and know that you are a hothead?


First some useful facts. Psychiatrists used to think it was good to get your anger out. That would have a purifying effect and take the pressure off. But empirical research shows that this is incorrect. Those who vent their anger become even angrier. “It’s like trying to put out a fire with gasoline,” wrote psychologist Brad Bushman.

On the other hand: suppressing anger for a long time is not smart either. This can even undermine your physical and mental health. Furthermore, showing genuine emotions helps a leader gain the trust of employees. The trick is to deal with feelings of anger in a sensible way.

Five tips

Time for practical tips. From the Harvard Business Review, the Greater Good Science Center, and the American Psychological Association.

1. Do you feel anger rising in a work situation? Don’t express your emotions right away, but first have a conversation with yourself. If possible, find a quiet place.

2. Ask yourself: where does this come from? Why do I get so angry in this situation? Also ask: what do I need to feel better, now and in the longer term? What practical steps will help with this? By thinking through these questions you look at the situation more rationally and detachedly, which reduces your anger.

3. Are you a bit calmer? Then talk to others about your emotions, without using too big words. Feel free to say that you feel uncomfortable or a little confused. Make a conscious effort to speak a little slower than you normally do.

4. If you are not calm yet, take a little more time. Count to one hundred. Breathe calmly and deeply. And rate your anger between 1 (irritated) and 10 (furious). Only talk to others if you are at a 4 or lower.

5. Make your anger productive. For example, anger about carelessness or injustice is an excellent tool for working on changes in your working environment.

Captain Haddock

Sometimes you can’t figure it out on your own. Then seek help. From a professional, a coach or a good friend. Last week I fell during a bike ride and got very angry. My cycling buddy helped me up and reassured me. Then she laughingly compared me to Captain Haddock from the Tintin comics, famous for his insults (“A thousand bombs and grenades!”). Two hours later I fell again. To my own surprise, I remained calm. It’s amazing what a little care and attention can do for a seasoned tantrum.

Ben Tiggelaar writes weekly about personal leadership, work and management.