Angry Boys and Girls


The Ryan Gately team and I headed out recently to the MCG for the annual CEO Institute Leaders’ Summit.  It was a great event and each of us came away with at least one nugget that either challenged or inspired us.  Today’s Karen Gately blog touches on a few of the most inspiring parts of the summit.

One of the most significant moments for me was thanks to a comment made by Leo D’Angelo Fisher (a BRW journalist who specialises in management and leadership issues, emerging companies and corporate strategy). While I can’t quote Leo word for word, he made the general statement that “workplaces are angry, like I’ve never seen them before – – fundamental issues need to be addressed before we can begin to tackle improving productivity.”  This statement lead to some of the most interesting discussions of the day.


While certainly not the case for all the businesses we work with, Leo’s comments rang true. Time and again I observe organisations striving to achieve objectives by implementing programs, strategies and policies all aimed at the Holy Grail of people management – productivity. In my observation, many of these efforts fail because they neglect to first address the fundamental issues holding them back – a lack of trust and respect.  It is my strong view that this neglect leads to unhappy, disengaged and (in many cases as Leo noted) angry teams.

Perhaps the most profound examples are from those organisations who invest vast sums of money and resources developing and rolling out what can best be described as internal PR campaigns aimed at rallying the troops to do more with less. These approaches are often prioritized ahead of identifying and overcoming the ineffective management practices and behaviours that undermine the trust and spirit of their team.

So what does ‘angry’ mean?  The kinds of behaviours I see from angry people vary, but what they all share in common is a diminishing impact on an organisations’ ability to succeed. People who hold strong emotions of resentment or bitterness often behave in ways that can be described as hostile, aggressive or defensive. I also observe that angry people can become withdrawn or guarded.  Others are inspired to resist, undermine or deliberately sabotage success. Others still become deceitful or manipulative as a consequence of the strong sense of injustice they feel.  Anyone who has tried reasoning with angry people can probably attest to the fact that one of the biggest hurdles is overcoming their tendency (and sometimes desire) to be irrational.

It isn’t hard to conclude that these emotions and behaviours are unlikely to lead to the kind of effort, focus and competence required to achieve average results, let alone optimise the productivity and performance of a business. Trust and respect are the non-negotiable foundation of successful teams; put simply, teams with high levels of trust are far more likely to be successful than those who don’t. In my experience, trusted leaders garner rewards including more highly engaged staff, the ability to retain talented and committed people, a positive work culture and ultimately better results. Trust enables people to take one another on their word, give one another the “benefit of the doubt”, work closely together and leverage the full benefit of their relationship. In contrast, when people don’t trust each other their focus is often shifted away from collaboration towards second-guessing and demonstrating guarded behaviours. Equally, low levels of trust fuel conflicts and encourage avoidance.

There is no magic wand or super groovy HR program that can overcome anger and rebuild trust. At the end of the day, what matters most is the ability for leaders to earn the trust and respect of their teams (one person at a time). Only then do they have any chance of overcoming the anger their people are feeling. This starts with the Board and the CEO and filters through to every person in a leadership position. For example – even a high performing, respected and trusted supervisor will struggle to maintain high levels of team engagement if the CEO or Executive team are making decisions that lack integrity. It isn’t an easy road and leaders need to understand that for most people trust grows over time. Critically, they need to understand and appreciate that previous hurts, fears or losses can impede someone’s willingness and ability to trust again. For any organisation to sustain success over time their leaders must understand that once violated, trust is very difficult to repair – so it must be guarded carefully and constantly nurtured.


In my experience, the most important influencers of trust and respect are the relationships people have with their boss and more senior managers in their ‘chain of command’.  The critical influencers of these relationships include:

  1. Leading with integrity – reflected in fairness, honesty, authenticity and consistency in everything leaders do and say
  2. Influencing people to have a strong sense of personal value – in other words feeling valued and valuable. In part, this is influenced by the extent to which people believe their manager has sincere concern for their welfare. Equally important is the confidence people feel that the skills they bring are respected and matter to the wider success of the organisation.
  3. Ensuring people believe they have a voice and are heard.  People need to feel that their views and opinions truly matter.  While they don’t always need to see their ideas come to fruition they do need to believe they have at least been considered.

On the flip side is a long list of leadership behaviours that undermine trust and respect.  Those that I most often observe include:

  1. Dishonesty – telling lies and failing to follow through on promises or “walk the talk”
  2. Lack of openness – leading to people believe there are hidden agendas at play
  3. Failing to own mistakes and be honest about shortcomings
  4. Lack of demonstrable empathy or regard for the impacts of actions or decisions on members of the team
  5. Micromanagement and lack of genuine empowerment that enables people to make a meaningful contribution
  6. Lack of genuine appreciation for the contributions people make to the organisations’ achievements
  7. Finger pointing and blaming

While I believe there are many organisations that have a solid foundation of trust upon which they drive their success, I also agree with Leo’s sentiments that there are many others who must understand the anger their people feel, and prioritize ensuring they have leaders capable of earning the trust and respect of their teams.


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