Gerwig 2014-01-01

On a regular basis, I write about communication and decision-making. Over and over they seem to dominate my thoughts about business and leadership. This interest isn’t based on scientific data, but on personal observation. It seems to me that nearly everything in leadership rises and falls on communication and decision-making. This week’s article, however, is on anger. I’ve written about anger before. In fact, almost two years to the day, my weekly article was titled “Anger As Motivation.”

I noted then that controlled anger can result in positive motivation and outcomes. Many people achieve success because they are angry about a situation. For example, many humanitarian organizations are founded because someone got angry at a social condition, hunger for example. Many successful organizations have been founded because one person got angry at how they were treated and decided they would start their own company and treat people better.

There was a time (years ago) when I was swimming competitively and was disqualified in an event. Words cannot describe how angry I was. In many ways (maybe all ways), it was not a big deal. It was at a local swim meet, not the Olympics. And it was in my worst event, the breaststroke. In every other event, I was a top swimmer, a junior-Olympian who was undefeated in several events including the 50m, 100m, and 200m free-style, butterfly and the individual medley.

Living on Guam and competing in the Junior Olympics (Asia Pacific), I had won 7 gold medals in 7 events. I had set 4 or 5 records for my age group in those events. But because I was stubborn, independent and proud, I asked my coach if I could compete in the “B Championships.” I wanted to show others (and myself) that I could be successful in the breaststroke. I wanted to improve my breastroke times so that I could qualify for the “A Championships” in the 50m and 100m breakstroke. I wanted to have “A” times in every event I swam, including the breaststroke.

You see, the “B Championships,” to me, were for losers. Kids who couldn’t didn’t qualify for the “A Championships” with A times (or double A or triple A) went to the “B Championships.” For years I had looked down my nose at “B swimmers.” I never outwardly made fun of them, but in my heart, I didn’t respect them. I thought they didn’t respect the sport or train hard. They didn’t swimming several miles a day in the morning and evening. They were slackers. They didn’t train hard or really “want it” badly enough, otherwise they’d have “A” times!

Well, my coach agreed to let me swim the 100m breastroke in the “B Championships” and I coasted through the qualifying heats and was the top seeded swimmer in the finals, swimming in the Lane 4 (the lane reserved for the top qualifier from the earlier heats). Man, was I pumped. I won the event by a body-length or more. I was sure I had set a “B Championship” record and maybe even qualified for an “A” time!

Then the bad news as I exited the pool, I had “DQ’d” – disqualified. One of my feet had broken the surface of the water during my kick. Trust me, the rules governing competitive breastroke have changed a LOT since those days, but in the end, I had failed. I didn’t win the race, my time which was fast enough to qualify as an “A” time, didn’t count. Hundreds of people, friends, family, teammates and rivals, knew I had DQ’d. I was so angry I could’ve bitten bullets. To this day, nearly 30 years later, my blood pressure rises when I think about that day.

But so what. Why am I writing about this meaningless swimming event today? I didn’t go on to qualify for the Olympics and, eventually, I stopped swimming competitively. But the reason I shared this story is because a seemingly meaningless event has helped define me and my thoughts on leadership. You see, that race, my behavior, motivation and response has been in my thoughts many times since that day. It has helped shape who I’ve become.

I’ve learned to NOT let anger control me. I’ve learned to focus and channel my anger to get things done. To make a difference. To achieve goals. To impact others. To stay sharp and hungry. I’m not an anger expert, but I do know that when I get angry, as long as I control it, I get a lot (a LOT!) accomplished in a short period of time. It’s not sustainable, but it can be effective.

Don’t let anger get the best of you. You cannot undo irrational actions taken in the heat of your anger. The damage has been done. Recognize your triggers and don’t lose your mind. Instead, channel the anger into positive action. I’m suggesting that you control your anger, harness it, and let it be used to accomplish something positive. Other emotions motivate, too. Hope. Fear. Love. Yet anger also has its place as a motivator.

When I look back, I realize some of my anger was the result of pride, some the result of doubt, some the result of immaturity – yet some was justified and harnessed/controlled in a manner that provided fuel for change, for improvement, for growth.

Do you get angry? Do you control and focus that anger to achieve positive results?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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