UK: FIRST CLASS COACH - ONCE MORE WITH FEELING. - As managing director of a division in a well-known company, I am finding it increasingly difficult to control my temper if someone produces disappointing work, is late for a meeting or forgets to do somet

by MARGARET EXLEY, who leads Towers Perrin's European practice onchange and communication. A founder of Kinsley Lord, she is also a director ofHM Treasury's Management Board.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

As managing director of a division in a well-known company, I am finding it increasingly difficult to control my temper if someone produces disappointing work, is late for a meeting or forgets to do something. I end up shouting at them - but while some probably need to be screamed at, others would respond to encouragement. It seems I am always in conflict with my colleagues and not always good at motivating them.

At the heart of all aggression lies fear. Ask yourself what you are afraid of - is it about what's happening to the business or are you worried about your own performance slipping away?

The paradox is that this behaviour makes things worse. The effect on your managerial team of aggressive behaviour will be to make them feel inadequate and defensive. More importantly, they will feel they cannot bring problems to your attention without being put through a ringer. The effect on you is destructive as well. Such episodes must leave you feeling isolated and dissatisfied.

The reason you are in the role of managing director is that you know more and have more experience than your team. Yelling at them because they do not produce work to your standard is not only counterproductive but also unreasonable. People will grow reluctant to talk to you when things really do go wrong - and then you will be in real trouble.

Motivation is easy to describe but hard to create. The heart of your role as managing director is to achieve business performance through people.

No more, no less. So, it is almost entirely about motivation. You must therefore develop a management style that motivates people and is conducive to high levels of individual and team performance. Put simply, you need to do three things. First, be demanding but not impossible. Make clear the standards you seek, and be consistent about them and specific. Second, give good, balanced feedback. Be constructive, be sympathetic, but be clear - and calm! - about those areas where the performance is inadequate.

Third, praise people when they do well. Motivation is also about helping people celebrate and recognise achievements. Don't always dwell on the negative. Being late or forgetting things is forgivable once or twice.

If it is a pattern, then take it seriously - but give balanced and constructive feedback about the whole job.

You may already know all of this, and the question is how do you start to do it? How can you control your feelings and really motivate people to do well?

Start with the basics. Are you looking after yourself - your health, your work/life balance? Are you being pressurised by others about business results? Your inappropriate behaviour may be a symptom of stress or an inability to delegate. These may need to be tackled first before you address the question of your ability to motivate staff and create the right management style.

Are you avoiding tackling a more fundamental problem of basic competence in your team? Are there individuals who are not delivering the results?

Your frustration may come through in the form of bad temper. If this is the case, tackle the issue at its source. Move, remove or replace the individuals concerned. Do it well and humanely - but do it, for the sake of your health and theirs.

Get a mentor or counsellor. An old friend, perhaps, or someone whose management style you admire. Ask them to work with you offline - to 'review' your style and progress in dealing with your behaviour. It can be helpful to have someone you see regularly but who has no axe to grind and can give you honest feedback.

When you have satisfied yourself that the team is capable of its role and there are no factors to do with your own wellbeing and balance, then it may be worth 'recontracting' with your team. Take time with them to talk through the performance of the division, bring out your views and theirs of how the leadership team is working and identify ways to raise performance and effectiveness. My strong advice would be to find a good facilitator for this event, who can help you prepare for it and help you manage the process.

There is much talk in the management journals of emotional intelligence.

Often this boils down to the ability to control one's feelings and express them constructively. It also encapsulates the ability to motivate others to extraordinary levels of performance. As a leader, it is fine to use your position to set high standards and challenge people to achieve them.

It is not fine to use it to bully, or to vent frustration. My hunch is you know this.

Your challenge is to do something about it - to learn how to acknowledge your feelings, and work with them.

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