Great leaders are logical. They're rational. They're cool and calm and collected. They keep it together and stay focused in the face of crisis, or danger, or incompetence.

Great leaders rarely get angry.

And when they do, they don't show it. 

Yet according to research conducted by Henry Evans and Colm Foster, emotional intelligence experts and authors of Step Up: Lead in Six Moments That Matter, the highest performing people (and highest performing teams) tap into and express their entire spectrum of emotions.

Which is what Tom Cruise just did on the London set of Mission Impossible 7 when he apparently came across crew members standing too closely together, breaking Covid-19 guidelines.

"So I'm sorry, I am beyond your apologies," Cruise can be heard yelling. "I have told you, and now I want it, and if you don't do it, you're out. We are not shutting this [expletive] movie down! Is it understood? If I see it again, you're [expletive] gone."

Here's the NSFW, Less Grossman-level audio in full:

The Power of Emotion

Evans and Foster say anger can be useful when harnessed and controlled, because it fosters two useful behavioral capabilities:

  • Anger creates focus. Get mad, and you tend to focus on one thing: The source of your anger. You don't get distracted. You're not tempted to multitask. All you can see is what's in front of you. That degree of focus can be extremely powerful.
  • Anger generates confidence. Get mad, and the automatic rush of adrenaline heightens your senses and reduces your inhibitions. Anger, in small doses, can be the spark that gets you started.

But there's still one major problem with showing your anger.

Vent your anger and it's easy to do and say things you later regret. That's why the key to harnessing anger is to find a way to stay smart and in control while you're angry.

For the most part, Cruise does stay (fairly) in control. Granted, phrases like "That's what I sleep with every night: The future of this [expletive] industry!" do sound a bit over the top and self-aggrandizing. (But he probably does feel that way.)

The profanity he uses is also problematic. But then again, research shows adding an occasional curse word makes your message likely to be more persuasive

Cruise clearly takes it too far, but in the right setting, a heartfelt expletive can add a little oomph to what you're trying to convey.

In the Right Doses

Most people hold on to feelings of anger for too long: Their feelings build and build until they can no longer control themselves.

And then they explode.

Losing it is counterproductive at best, damaging at worst. The key is to slowly and steadily allow yourself to express lower levels of anger, working up from irritation, and then to frustration, and then finally to anger.

When you feel irritated, don't swallow and disregard your feelings. Think about why you feel the way you feel. Then work with those feelings, and when appropriate, say what you need to say. Let a little of your irritation show through.

Don't worry about losing your cool. After all, you aren't mad. You're just irritated.

Then you can move up to the next level and express frustration. But when you do, stay focused on how you feel. (And always ask yourself whether you're using your frustration as a weapon instead of a tool.)

Then move up to the final level, expressing anger. Again, step outside yourself as you do. Are you in charge of your anger and actions? Or is anger in charge of you?

In time, as you learn to control and harness your feelings, you will be able to get well and truly pissed off and still handle yourself in an appropriate and productive way.

As Evans and Foster write, "Don't pretend. Be upset, but be intelligent while you're upset."

That way you can maintain your professional relationships as you work through challenges. 

If you want to be a better leader, stop trying to hide negative emotions. Unlike an actor such as Cruise, the odds you can successfully hide how you're feeling are slim. You may be angry and think you're hiding it, but you're not.

The people around you? They know.

While Cruise's rant may not be the perfect example to follow, it does highlight an important lesson.

It's OK to express the way you feel, as long as you do so in a controlled and thoughtful way. 

Because expressing your feelings can not only help you stay focused--it can also help your team stay focused.

And serve as a powerful reminder that sometimes, business can't be business as usual.