This Time It’s Personal

Managers sometimes bring their bad tempers to the office.  I’ve witnessed managers shout and rage time and time again.  Some are able to manage the negative fallout of such outbursts, while many crash and burn as a result.

So what’s the difference?  Those who fail tend to personalize their rants, targeting them at specific individuals.  Those who get beyond a temper outburst normally don’t.

Yep, it’s pretty much that simple.

Every problem has a name… of a person

Managing can be a frustrating job.  Things rarely go as it seems like they should.  Circumstances change.  Pesky competitors react in unexpected ways.  Employees mess up.

I’ve noticed over the years that bad tempers and a tendency to search for employees to blame for a problem seem to go hand-in-hand.  Sure, employees screw up.  All the time.  But the majority of substantial business problems – at least in my experience – are caused by erroneous or bad strategies, rather than failures of those charged with executing them.

Strategies can go wrong in a number of ways.  They can be unrealistic, overly complicated, based on incorrect assumptions, poorly communicated, and/or virtually impossible to execute.  And guess who’s responsible for that failed strategy?  Management, of course.

Managers, just like most human beings, are generally unwilling to point the finger back at themselves.  There is the practical matter of the political fallout of admitting to making mistakes, but even bigger barrier is the damage it can do to one’s ego.

It is this tension that seems to lead to the classic “search for the guilty and punishment of the innocent.”  It is also the driver for many managerial emotional outbursts.

How could you… ?

It’s one thing to have an outburst that is generic in nature – “Why can’t we seem to get our sales message into the minds of our customers,” delivered in a raised voice.  People expect a certain amount of table-pounding when things aren’t going right.  Leaders inspire.  They are emotionally invested.  If an emotionally invested leader occasionally boils over because she experiences a major disappointment, most people will forgive and forget.

As long as the target of the rage is not someone they know or work with.

Managers cross the line when they personalize their frustrations and begin blaming (and subsequently savaging) individuals.  There is a big difference between shouting “Why can’t we…!” and “Why did you…!”

This is my most recent release, EMPOWERED, which came out 10/12/14.  You can get it from Amazon by clicking  here .

This is my most recent release, EMPOWERED, which came out 10/12/14.  You can get it from Amazon by clicking here.

Sometimes the treatment is deserved.  Sometimes employees will think that Fred “had it coming.”  Even when justified, you’ve made a permanent enemy of Fred.

More often the general employee population will think the treatment is unjustified, undignified, and completely unnecessary.  Witnesses will wonder when it will be their turn in the barrel.  They will label you as “unfair” or “explosive.”  They will do what they can to get away from you.  A few might even seek revenge.

Such explosions don’t need to happen often.  Sometimes a single rant is all it takes to severely damage a manager’s reputation.

Handling disappointments

Here are a few bits of advice to help managers better handle such situations.

  1. Stay in control.  You’ll do your best thinking and problem solving when your emotions are in check.
  2. Fight your predisposition to assume every problem carries with it the name of a person.
  3. First examine the possibility of your own guilt.  Is there a problem with strategy, resourcing, environment, etc?  If so, place the blame where it belongs, not on the shoulders of someone else.
  4. If you find yourself in a rant, keep it generic.  Above all, avoid dragging in individuals – particularly if the outburst is in public.
  5. If the problem really is caused by the neglect, stupidity, or poor execution of an employee and you feel you must rant at them, do so in private – that will minimize collateral damage to your reputation in the minds of any observers.
  6. If you fail in all the other advice and launch into a personal, public attack – apologize.  If the rant was in private, offer an apology to the victim.  If it occurred in public, offer a private apology and one in public.  This will at least mitigate some of the damage your reputation will otherwise face.


Losing one’s temper in the workplace is rarely a good idea.  If you find yourself losing control, focus on keeping your rant from becoming personal.  Personalizing your anger will only earn you enemies and damage your reputation.  If you do slip up and name names, it is essential that you immediately humble yourself and apologize.  2.3

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To the right is the cover for HEIR APPARENT.  Someone is killing corporate leaders in Kansas City.  But who?  The police and FBI pursue a "serial killer" theory, leaving Joel Smith and Evangelina Sikes to examine other motives.  As the pair zero in on the perpetrator, they put their own lives at risk.  There are multiple suspects and enough clues for the reader to identify the killer in this classic whodunnit set in a corporate crucible.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.