One of Winston Churchill's goals was to maintain an even disposition—which was a constant challenge. He worked to maintain an upbeat attitude and restrain his temper. While much has been written about Churchill's temper, he clearly understood that operating out of anger could be debilitating.
“A man is about as big as the things that make him angry,” is an oft-cited Churchill quotation. It is important to note that Churchill was angry—at Hitler and the Nazi war machine—and that the object of his anger was large, making Churchill a “big” man by the logic of that saying. He was also angry and concerned about Soviet communism, and he warned the world of its coming dangers, channeling his anger into an image of forcefulness in his writings and his oratory.
Churchill actually spoke often on the subject of anger, saying, "Anger is a waste of energy. Steam, which is used to blow off a safety valve, would be better used to drive the engine."
But was Churchill always on an even keel? No, he was human. There were countless times when Churchill would become angry, sometimes at the discovery of passivity or inept performance. His personal staff was often exposed to the immediate heat of his anger. He would sometimes swear and lose his temper in magnificent ways. In those instances he would be quick to apologize for his "intolerable behavior."
Churchill more often demonstrated joy. He would smile, joke, and dazzle his staff with charm and whimsy. He had a power over the English language that few could match and would recite poems or tell jokes that would diffuse confrontations. He worked hard to be more positive in every relationship, to always tip the balance toward joy.
Churchill's acknowledgment of his anger-driven missteps and his capacity to ask for forgiveness demonstrated to his team that he was human and that he also understood how emotion could affect his ability to lead. Because of his efforts to always deposit more than he withdrew in others' emotional accounts, people would forgive him his anger.
In his writings, Churchill was always frank and direct. His wartime messages would often be written on a memo sheet entitled, “Acton to be taken TODAY.” Churchill worked to remove any hint of anger from his writings; he preferred to control his anger and focus it on Hitler and the Nazi war machine.
First, being balanced does not mean being inhuman and not showing emotion. Emotion is a true human expression and communicates volumes to your people. Always put more effort into being positive, and maintain a sense of humor. Praise, attention, whimsy, self-depreciation—all work to bring love and humility to your relationships. Avoid sarcastic remarks or jokes; they create confusion and animosity. Understand that anger directed at events and outcomes—and not directed at a specific person—will be forgiven by your staff. But too much display of anger (not disappointment, but true anger) will wear down the troops. If you do lose your cool, apologize to the folks who saw it. Apologize for the “intolerable behavior.”
And second, anger directed at the right object will create an incredible focus. Listen to Churchill’s speeches about the Nazi leadership and you know that he is angry—as were the British people. The creative use of anger can rally the troops behind bold actions. Be mad at a wrong outcome, and channel that energy into the effort of innovation and correction. The more effective you are at translating anger into action, the more the people around you will learn that skill.