Book Review: Angry Leadership

7 mins read

What a name. Angry Leadership is the work of Victor Angry, a career military member of the United States Army. He succeeded as the first African American to hold the position of Command Sergeant of the entire Army National Guard. His book, Angry Leadership, follows his journey through his time spent with the armed forces in positions of formal and informal leadership.

Early into the book, Angry admits that his calling didn’t fully resonate until the age of forty-three. Though he had spent his career mindfully placing himself in front of opportunities to serve in a leadership capacity, it wasn’t until after his retirement that he fully actualized his purpose in life. That resonated with me.

Too often, we’re tied to the expectation of what we’ve either become or are chasing – it’s okay to not know for certain where you’re headed. In Angry’s case, he had known from an early age that he loved helping people become more, but for some of us, it’s important to understand that our meaning is a work in progress.

Angry Leadership - a chapter on Fitness.
Of course, fitness is a baseline requirement.

Luck and Timing

Early into the first chapter, Angry lists two common things that helped to propel his career. Luck and timing. I happen to have a unique take on luck – and it aligns with Angry’s definition.

I did a lot of prep work throughout my career to be on the lucky list and put myself in the best position for the universe to provide the most perfect timing.

Victor Angry, Angry Leadership

My wife was the one to really influence my vision of luck. She has this concept about being a lottery winner. You see, everybody positions the lottery winner as being fantastically lucky. While there is a kernel of truth there – his number had to be called, after all – he wouldn’t have a chance if he didn’t buy a ticket. If you work hard enough, people will call you lucky.

In Victor’s case, he mentions times in his career where it was the work that set him apart. To manifest the luck required at the appropriate timing, his diligence would buy his ticket.

The NCO Creed

Further into Angry Leadership, Victor introduces a philosophical text from his military experience known as the ‘NCO Creed‘. Up until reading his book, I hadn’t heard of this particular passage.

Of the creed, I really take to the first line.

No one is more professional than I.

I think any person called to duty in service would do well to really meditate on that.

Also of note, the second paragraph from that document highlights another critical mindset and is highlighted in my copy of Angry Leadership in bright yellow. Chasing proficiency is a never ending pursuit toward competency.

Competence is my watchword. My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind—accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my Soldiers. I will strive to remain technically and tactically proficient.

NCO Creed, US Army

Questions

Angry asserts that asking ‘direct and focused’ questions is a primary task for any leader. This is a skill that needs to be actively honed. Especially where those questions can result in unwanted work, emotional responses or opportunities for difficult ownership are concerned. That’s easier said than done, however.

I was dealing with a problem that would focus on one person. It was dropped on my desk without a lot of context and I was asked to report my findings on a problem that would almost certainly put the spotlight on one particular person – and not in a complimentary shade. To start, I asked the people involved for a history on the problem and followed up with a few questions on how the result of this problem might impact operations or personnel.

Reading Victor’s brief summary on this idea, I’m inclined to agree. A hard-but-worthwhile skill to sharpen for any leader is cutting through the extra fat of a problem and asking questions up-front.

Later, in a chapter referencing self-evaluation, Angry describes how his trusted personal group of ‘advisors’ are open to a simple question.

“How am I doing?”

You can probably imagine both reactions. On one hand, his ‘advisor’ brings actionable, functional advice toward his progress as a professional. On the other, a soldier permitted to ‘speak freely’ sounds off about his leadership style. Jordan Peterson once described faith as ‘doing what is right even if you don’t know what the outcome will be’. I think in some ways, the noble leader must act with faith in this way – ask your team how you can improve. On purpose or from the crusts of time folding over our eyes, we can be blind to our weaknesses. Seek review.

Overall, Angry Leadership is a short, worthwhile read. It summons lessons from decades of service to the US Army and compartmentalizes Victor’s experience in a digestible, meaningful way. There are ideas you can peel right off the page and drop into your own life – and that’s what makes a non-fiction work on leadership or service a good buy.

Bill Dungey is a volunteer firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is focused on fitness, mindset development and finding training opportunities to help the fire service make things better.

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