It was a beautiful, sunny, spring day in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. If you’ve never been there its a great spot tucked away about 40 minutes east of Spokane, Washington, along the banks of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Through a hockey connection I met a great family who own a very successful minting company in Coeur d’Alene, and after about a year talking back and forth we were contracted to conduct leadership and team building for their company. This was actually our second time with the company in the past six months and this time they were taking on our premiere outdoor team building exercise known as Operation: “Victory Spike” on the terrain of Tubbs Hill.
The client set us up right as they always do, providing us first class accommodations at the famous Coeur d’Alene (CDA) Resort located on the lake. This resort is known to many the famous traveler and is even one of the hosts for a popular Triathlon every year. It even has a terrific golf course with a “floating green” that is accessed only by boat.
It was our recon (short for reconnaissance) day and our Elite Leadership Training LLC Cadre were hard at work prepping lanes and finalizing the scheme of maneuver for tomorrow’s event. The weather was terrific, the views excellent, it really couldn’t get much better, well except for a good cup of coffee. It must be a military thing but former Soldier’s can drink coffee just about anytime and in any weather. As the Lead Consultant for our company I planned all the outdoor missions and then tailored them as necessary to fit the terrain and fitness level of the client. It was time for the coffee run and one thing I learned from serving with the Brits in Afghanistan, is that everyone is on the hook to get coffee. This is one task where rank does not have its privileges with the Brits and I actually liked that! (Many a evenings the British Colonel would be getting tea for his mates after losing the ceremonial dice roll which they all participated in to see who was make the tea run). As the team was finishing up preparing their task lanes and we were waiting for the “Six” (term for the boss which in this case is the ELT CEO Lona Spisso) to complete her final walk through of the site, I tasked myself to get the boys coffee.
I headed over the the plush CDA Resort and ordered five coffee’s ensuring I had everyones order accurate. Former military guys rarely complain, except when you screw their coffee up! They’ll sleep outside and go without food for days but screw up their coffee and you’ll hear about it! (Love those guys! Keeps you sharp as a leader!) After I placed my order I struck up a conversation with the young lady who took my order. As a former Sergeant Major I’m always asking young Americans “what’s your plan for your life?” This young lady was finishing up her Freshman year in College and was working to supplement her college and living expenses. She then said she thought about a career in the Federal Government as either an agent or analyst for the FBI or some similar agency. After she said that, I asked her a series of questions trying to guide her on applicable courses to improve her chances of qualifying for a demanding position. “Do you know a foreign language? Do you have any weapons training? What is your GPA? Can you correctly apply the rear-naked choke hold?” I asked. After answering the barrage of questions she said “is this interrogation a part of the process?” (laughing), and of course I replied “yes it is; you’ve passed your first test!” (laughing as well!) Seeing our responses from the back of the restaurant but not hearing or knowing what was said another young lady walks up (her supervisor) and says to her “are you angrifying the customers?” Angrifying? Huh?
Ok honey, you’re using a three-dollar word with the Sergeant Major you’re going to explain it! Stealing a line from the infamous Colonel Nathan R. Jessup from the movie “A Few Good Men” I immediately said “I’m an educated man but the term “angrifying” is not one I’m familiar with?” She then responded that it’s a term in the “Urban Dictionary” (and I don’t use than much either!) and it means to “anger” someone or to “be angry”. I thanked her for the lesson, paid the other young lady for the coffee, told her to “keep pressing the fight on her goals” and to be “ready for interrogation at a moments notice” (jokingly) and went back to meet the guys with coffee’s properly ordered (thank God!).
The more I think about this term the more crucial it becomes. Thinking about leaders that are down-right “angry” when they lead. Now we have talked about being a leadership volcano and balance and not going to work angry and several other leadership traits. But here I want to specify that being angry, unhappy, or vengeful just defeats the purpose of what you do as a leader. This doesn’t mean you won’t get pissed off from time to time, because you will! However being angry all the time is ineffective to any type of success. I can recall several leaders in the military that led with this trait, “angry.” When they showed up everyone would cringe because you knew an ass chewing was coming for something. It didn’t matter what was happening, what you were doing or how prepared you were, you were going to get chewed out for something. I can recall a story from a retired Brigade Command Sergeant Major friend of mine about a very senior and high ranking Command Sergeant Major (CSM) we both knew (and neither of us liked because he epitomized “angry”) after a mission in Iraq his Brigade was on a few years earlier. He talked about this extensive battle where the men fought hard against the Al-Qaeda and against the odds crushed the enemy and were victorious in the face of multiple dangers. He said the men returned back to base, faces marred by blood, sweat and sand, and won a battle the “right way”. Saving the innocents while killing the enemy, everything you want young warriors to do. Leadership at all levels were doing their jobs exquisitely!
As he and the Brigade Commander (Full Bird Colonel) were complimenting the men on a job well done, literally moments after they returned to camp, up walks this senior CSM and begins chewing out several Soldier’s for wearing a combat boot that did not meet the “height requirement” of the Army. Now they weren’t wearing a low cut shoe, but a military boot that was literally a few centimeters short of the proper height (this can all be waived by the unit commander in an “exception to policy” if it’s felt the gear positively affects combat performance). Now I’m not here to argue the policy on the boot height, but this is a silly correction at an improper moment in time. Put yourself in the shoes of the 19 year old Private First Class from Memphis, Tennessee. He survives a mission half way around the world in one of the deadliest cities on the planet, Falluja, Iraq, and is getting dressed-down by a Command Sergeant Major over boot height? This leader is angry; he has always been angry and will probably always be angry. He arrives angry, works angry, and leaves angry. This is NOT leadership. If this is your style or you feel you are moving towards this style and becoming jaded in your leadership then you need to change, all this does is to degrade any positives you bring to the organization.
We can become angry or cynical and motivated by self-interest because of previous events in our lives (being screwed over, passed over for promotion, etc…), however this does not produce leadership. Was the Command Sergeant Major correct in his assessment of boot height? Yes, however making that correction at that specific moment in time negates anything he is trying to get across to those men. I’ve chewed men out before for violations and failing to meet the standards, but they were on things that impacted their lives like a dirty weapon, or radios not working or tasks that could impact their lives or the lives of the people to their left and right. Boot height? Seriously? There is a time and place to address that, and it’s not three minutes after combat mission!
Even when I am pissed off, I work diligently not to force that on the people under my charge. Nothing goes well when it starts off with “you’re all F%&@ up!” Nothing! The switch goes off and all they hear is the teacher from the comic strip Peanuts (whah- whah- whah). If you’re a pessimist, cynical and angry, keep that to yourself and find a way to release that negative energy (working out usually works). Find the root of the issue. Do you hate your job? Your social life? Maybe you hate Country Music? Whatever it is you need to change, and separate yourself from it. If you’re stuck in the profession because of commitment (either personal or professional), then find an outlet to get you through it. Remember, it can always be worse! Always!
Lesson: Don’t become an “angrifying” leader; if you are one, change!
Urban Dictionary: Angrifying – the state of causing anger. Having the ability to raise tempers.
Performance Coach & Lead Consultant
Elite Leadership Training LLC