“For those who are not angry at the things they should to be angry at are thought to be fools.” - Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 4 Part 5
We were preparing a bill for a client. This client had been a hard case for months. They were a huge company with ample resources to pay for the 15 minutes of troubleshooting we were trying to bill them for. Nevertheless, they were contesting every line item in every invoice, pretty much just to be abusive, for sport I think. Someone on my team involved in the project was questioning why I was not getting angry at the client for the offense. I told them that I thought we were above the games they were trying to play. We had other work with clients who we loved very much. They were fun, thoughtful, careful, engaged and overall respectful of our abilities and our relationship. This problem client was a blip on the radar as far as I was concerned. But the conversation was still worthwhile. Shouldn’t we be getting angry about this?
Aristotle is right. Anger has it’s place. Anger keeps you sharp and aware of your worth, of your value as a person in this world, deserving of respect. The person who does not get suitably angry when injured is a fool or worse, slavish:
“...and so are those who are not angry in the right way, at the right time, or with the right persons; for such a man is thought not to feel things nor to be pained by them, and, since he does not get angry, he is thought unlikely to defend himself; and to endure being insulted and put up with insult to one’s friends is slavish.” - Book 4 Part 5
As a leader of a team or a project, if you are serville or submissive, you are not a leader at all. The inability to rise to anger in a temperate manner will translate to your inability to protect your team. And if you cannot protect your team you cannot protect your client or your project. You do no one any favors.
In The Ethics, Aristotle is also drawing emphasis to the importance of finding the mean between two states. On the one side is the fool, the slave. On the other side is…
“The excess can be manifested in all the points that have been named (for one can be angry with the wrong persons, at the wrong things, more than is right, too quickly, or too long); yet all are not found in the same person. Indeed they could not; for evil destroys even itself, and if it is complete becomes unbearable.”
Dear reader, I know that you know people on both sides of the median of anger, temperance. You know people who bend to the will of others and remain serville. And you know people who are quick to anger and revenge. Neither person is a suitable leader. On the one hand, they do not protect those who work with them. On the other hand, they destroy those who work with them.
The challenge is the median position. I have found that this median position between the two extremes is much like a razor’s edge, at least when your actions are judged by others. People, I have found, rarely find that I have struck exactly at the mean when it comes to anger. Most of the time I am criticized for being too accommodating. Fortunately Aristotle has my back here:
“For the good-tempered man tends to be unperturbed and not to be led by passion, but to be angry in the manner, at the things, and for the length of time, that the rule dictates; but he is thought to err rather in the direction of deficiency; for the good-tempered man is not revengeful, but rather tends to make allowances.”
I think the saving grace here is that I am talking about the importance of anger in the realm of business, in the area of dealings with clients, projects and teams. In this context I find it very easy to find just the right measure of anger tempered by thoughts about scope.
The client who had been harassing us about our billing was not located across the street from me. Their kids did not attend the same school mine did. We did not go to the same taqueria. We did not buy the same milk. It was easy for me and my team to get pissed about the time they were wasting with their combative approach to business. But it was also easy to let it stop there. When we get into situations like this it helps me a great deal to think about that person hanging up the phone with me, getting into their car and going to their kid’s soccer game or tumbling class. Their desire to annoy me was merely a temporary entertainment for them. Their investment in my unhappiness was so limited that they barely warranted any anger on my part. The exact correct amount of anger was whatever amount I required to pay attention, do some math and decide that it was time to fire this client. The exact right amount of anger justified here was the anger that helped to protect the space in which a much better, more engaged, more healthy and happy client could fit into my team’s dynamic.
Anger, in the business world, should be little more than a tool. Your emotions should be real and authentic, but they should be tempered by a proper appreciation of context and perspective. Your anger should be clean and clear. It should trigger you, not drive you. It should inform you, not govern you. Your anger should help you pay attention to the right thing, at the right time, for the right amount of time, and at the right person. But beyond that, your other faculties should take over.