Keep Your Temper -- Or Lose Your Talent

Last Updated Sep 11, 2008 3:16 PM EDT

stressball.jpgOrganisational life can be highly frustrating at times. But how you respond to pressure can have a significant and lasting effect on those around you.

We pay far more attention to people's behaviour than we do to what they say, especially if the verbal message is unclear or mixed. So managers who are apt to losing their tempers are likely to leave a negative impression on people. You don't have to shout or even say a word to signal anger -- it can be done by facial expression, eye contact or lack of it, and body position.

Contrary to what managers who do this sort of thing believe, intimidating, berating and demeaning people does not make them perform better.

It has the opposite effect, making people more cautious, less willing to take decisions, less committed, less motivated, and more likely to take time off work or leave. Statistics show that while 25 per cent of people who are subjected to this type of behaviour leave, a further 20 per cent who witness it will also quit.

Quite clearly managers who are serial offenders will have the most marked effect on performance, productivity and staff turnover. But one serious outburst can be enough to trigger significant negative consequences.

Actions perceived as threatening create not only a strong emotional reaction but also leave an indelible and lasting memory trace. Humans have evolved to remember and avoid threatening, dangerous things. A high and sustained level of cortisol, a hormone the body generates in an emergency, has a number of negative effects on health and our systems "remember" this.

This is why one of the most important things people in leadership roles must learn is how to control their temper, according to Professor Herminia Ibarra of INSEAD. We all get angry -- but the issue is how we deal with it.

Effective leaders control their behaviour and show only the emotions they wish to show in order to generate the responses they want. All reactions to behaviour are based on perception and interpretation. Skilled leaders do and say things that are interpreted as intended -- displaying what Daniel Goleman describes as both emotional and social intelligence.

Professor Robert Sutton of Stanford claims it's possible to calculate the cost of temperamental behaviour -- our own research indicates it can impact productivity and profitability by up to 25 per cent.

What is your organisation doing about it?

(Photo by sundazed, CC2.0)

  • Robin Stuart-Kotze

    Robin Stuart-Kotze is a founder of the consultancy Behavioural Science Systems, whose clients include P&O, BP, Oracle, and Johnson & Johnson. He’s also made his way in management, largely in the financial services sector in the UK and Canada. A distinguished academic with a PhD in organisational psychology, Robin co-wrote “Who Are Your Best People?” about effective talent management.