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The Angry Blast! Is it ever ok to lose your temper with an employee?

Even from a distance, with the office door closed, you could hear Mo’s voice reach a crescendo. And even with the door closed and no way to see their expressions, I could sense Jack and Marcie’s discomfort as Mo got into to top gear.

They’d been in his office for 15 minutes and everyone in the office knew why. Last night’s surveillance operation had been a failure. Eyes on the target had been lost at the point of transaction and as a result six months of work was potentially wasted. Mo was letting Jack and Marcie, the two officers responsible, know that he wasn’t happy. In an hour’s time he had to answer to the Regional Director and explain last night’s debacle.

Finally the door opened and Jack and Marcie, slinked back to their desks. I could see Mo looming in the doorframe for an instant before he swore loudly and slammed his office door behind him. The office watched in silence as Mo headed upstairs to face the music with Hopkins, the Regional Director.

“Seems the old man was really pissed.” Jaz, the office clown, broke the tension.

“Too right”, Marcie responded reulfully. “I thought his blood pressure was going to hit the roof.”

“It’s not like we didn’t deserve it,” added Jack, “we messed up and now he has to deal with that bastard Hopkins. I don’t envy him that.”

Marcie smiled sweetly. “Jaz my old friend, I need you to help me get a plan on Mo’s desk for 8am tomorrow morning. We’re going to dig ourselves out of the hole we made last night.”

“You need my help, now d’ya?”

Marcie prodded her partner. “Jack will buy you a beer if you do it.”

“It’ll take more than one.” Jaz opened his laptop. “Where do we start?”

As I observed this scene, his first thought was similar to what you might be thinking right now: a common example of a boss losing their temper over a mistake and leaving the team members to pick up the pieces. However, as I spent more time spent with the City of London Investigation Team, he learned that his impression was entirely false.

“He’s a big man, with a big mouth,” Jack told me over a pint that evening, “and an even bigger heart.” Beneath the gruff exterior there was a warmth to Mo and sound leadership principles that he demonstrated for the 10 years I worked with him.

He was a straight talker

People knew where they stood with Mo, and there were no misunderstandings. And let’s get this out of the way early: Mo did shout and swear and if someone messed up and he let them know it in no uncertain terms. However, once he said what he had to say he didn’t hold a grudge. The matter was forgiven (though not forgotten) and wasn’t held against you in the future … as long as you learned from your mistake.

On the flip side if you did a good job he’d acknowledge you publicly.

You always got a second chance to redeem yourself

Mo was all for giving you a second chance to see if you could do better. And more importantly he would offer the support and guidance to help his team achieve success. After the incident described above, Mo spent two hours with Jack, Marcie and Jaz the next day, fine-tuning their plan.

He would seek to insulate his team from the interference of senior management, even if this became detrimental to his career.

Whatever Mo said to you in his office, stayed in his office. If the team did well, he gave them the credit. And if they messed up then the buck stopped with him. Immediately after exiting the scene described above, Mo had to face the music with Hopkins, the Regional Director. Hopkins wanted a “sacrificial lamb” from the previous night’s operation and demanded Mo discipline his team for their mistake. Mo flatly refused to suspend any of his employees or give up the names of those responsible. He told Hopkins, “If you want to fire someone, fire me”. This fact was not lost on his team.

He genuinely cared about the work and even more about his team.

Mo was passionate about the work he did and felt that keeping criminals off of the streets of London was the most important thing he could do. He was passionate about his team too. Many team members owed their promotion to the support and write ups he sent to the promotion boards.

On a personal level he always had time for people, whatever the problem was. Several years after this event, one of Mo’s team members lost a young child tragically. Mo travelled across London after a long day’s work to spend time with the family. In his words, “flowers and a card didn’t seem to do justice to the situation.”

So … “Is it ever ok to lose your temper with an employee?” The answer, as always, is “It depends”.

No: not if you lose your temper simply to take out your frustration on someone.

Yes: Letting your employees know that you’re not happy with them on occasion is not necessarily a bad thing if, like Mo, your action is set within a broader context of a supportive, caring relationship with your employees.

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