Being Slow to Anger: The Three Phrases Every Leader Should Absorb

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19‭-‬20 ESV). 
I fear that many leaders operate with an underlying anger in their hearts and minds that overrides the hope and joy leadership can bring. Anger over what? 

  • Real or perceived personal weaknesses and insecurities.
  • The expectations they thought leading a religious organization would bring.
  • Real or perceived in effectiveness in preaching/teaching.
  • Personal interactions with those who disagree with their direction.
  • Being told they are too young/too old.
  • Jealousy over other churches or organizations who are thriving, while theirs is not (real or perceived).

The list could go on and on. Outside of Christ, no perfect leader exists who has it all together. And yet, many leaders struggle with the fact that they aren’t where they want to be or where their organization wants them to be, and thus the outward struggle feeds the inward insecurities, which in turn feeds and exaggerates the outward issues.

The apostle James, soon after telling us about how we are to count it all joy in our trials and struggles because they develop our Christian hope and perseverance, warns us that, in the midst of these trials and struggles, not to let them define us.

“Let every person be quick to hear.”  Leaders who like to lead often want to lead in every way, including conversations with others. So quick are they to dole out wisdom and information, that they fail to listen to those around them and really hear what they are saying. I found out rather early that what someone is saying (words) is not all they are saying (heart). Be quick to hear what’s being said by praying for wisdom and understanding to know what’s being, well, said.

“Slow to speak.” Yes, uber quick to dole out wisdom and information. We’ve been around people who have been formulating responses in their minds while we are talking. Truth be told, we’ve been those people!  At one of our Wednesday night studies, one of our attendees noted that people wait on average of 17 seconds when listening in a conversation before they interrupt. That’s not the definition of ‘slow to speak.’ Show grace to those with whom you speak in order to ‘get’ their heart. People come with all sorts of baggage (see the list above). Being slow to speak does much to help them sort through their baggage and find the real answers to the issues at hand.

“Slow to anger.” In listening, you may hear that some of their issues are directed at you. You as their leader may contribute to some of the problems they experience. What are our options?

  • Get defensive.
  • Blow them off.
  • Listen and own it.

Are these the only three options? Not likely. But defensiveness is a latent form of anger. You have to defend and explain yourself and why you’re right. If they can’t make their case, walk away and blow them off. 

But by being quick to hear and slow to speak, you open up doors for constructive critiques that can help both. Granted, some of those critiques have no basis, but every critique is a teachable moment for both the one critiquing and the one critiqued.  This helps us be slow to anger. 

We could say more about those who are overly critical all the time, finding nothing positive or encouraging.  But that’s them. For the leader, these three phrases will help you produce the righteousness of God to those around you. 

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