A Project Managers’ Anger

By Bob Rausch, Ph.D.

Last year I was called by a company to discuss coaching one of their project managers. His name was Blake and the HR guy who called me said there were several complaints about his inability to control his temper in meetings. It sounded like an interesting assignment but I wanted to talk with Blake’s supervisor before I committed to coaching with him.

When I talked to the supervisor he was extremely complimentary of Blake’s performance. He told me that Blake was one of the best project managers he had ever seen. In his words, “Blake is on the top of the high performer list. He owns every project and pushes beyond the limits to get things done.” The accolades were numerous. I finally asked why he wanted me to coach this manager. He said that Blake has a tendency to go to defcon 5 and over-react in certain situations. Then he gave me the real scoop on why Blake gets so angry.

Blake’s organization has several joint ventures with another organization. In many cases the completion of the project depended on accurate and timely information from the partnering company. The joint venture team was a disappointment to Blake and his boss. They consistently missed deadlines and generally would not get things done, giving one excuse after another. The situation became so bad that neither Blake nor his boss trusted anything they said. After repeatedly missing deadlines, giving numerous excuses and trying to talk with them about the urgency of these projects Blake could not contain his frustration.  He lashed out and they reported him to human resources.

Blake and I decided that his coaching goal was to learn how to deal with his emotions and not allow things to build up to the exploding point. No matter what the partnering organization did Blake still had to handle his emotions. Candidly, he was totally justified in expressing his frustration, although he did need to turn the emotional volume down because it was not only draining his energy but the energy of his team. His challenge was to step away and release frustration and develop tools to cope effectively with others.

We developed several action steps for Blake to cope with this conflict. The first thing we addressed was how Blake could effectively use his energy so he had reserves when conflict occurred. The initial action steps were:

  1. Increase personal energy. Don’t deal with every single email or phone call. Blake was in the middle of everything. Let the team figure out what to do in some situations.
  2. Be careful with ownership. Delegate your success to your team. They can handle it. If they need your assistance they can ask.
  3. Help the team develop problem solving skills. Help your team members think through particular situations. Don’t solve the problem for them.
  4. Compliment the team. A major energy refueler is to complement and encourage when members of the team do a good job.
  5. Pay more attention. Focus on what your team members need. Listen and ask the question, “What do you think?”

This preliminary list may not look like it relates to explosive behavior but it truly does. When personal energy is low we are more vulnerable to frustration, anger and explosive behaviors.

More to come in the next article

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