Why I Wrote The Gift of Anger
Why I Wrote The Gift of Anger
By Joe Solmonese
Before Ted Gavin and I joined forces to form Gavin/Solmonese, I had spent my entire career working in politics and social justice. (Not to age myself too much, but that’s over 20 years.) I learned to operate as a professional while advancing both my own career and a broader ideological—in my case progressive—agenda.
I took in many important lessons during the seven years I was president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, and during my 13 years at EMILY’s List, helping to elect hundreds of pro-choice Democratic women to office. Both were dynamic environments where, on any given day, I interacted with people who vehemently disagreed with me and even despised what I was fighting for.
As my public profile grew, I was asked to talk about how I succeeded in getting along with people on all sides of the political spectrum, even convincing them to support my cause or candidate. I must have imparted some wisdom to my audiences without causing too many Millennial eyes to roll, because after one of many speeches, I was asked to write my book, The Gift of Anger: Use Passion to Build, Not Destroy.
The book explains how I learned to channel anger—my own and others’—in a productive way. It emphasizes the importance of really listening, not just waiting your turn to talk. The value of curiosity. How great things can happen—historic, even, like the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act or the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell—when you take the time to hear what others are saying and ask them meaningful questions about what they think and why.
The Gift of Anger is about how to find common ground with people you might not expect to have anything in common with at all.
I use these lessons every day at Gavin/Solmonese, a diverse corporate workplace where not everyone shares my views on politics, my lack of interest in sports, or my passion for Led Zeppelin. In fact, working at G/S has shown me just how universal these truths are. And no one is more surprised than me that having spent years in the trenches of politics, fighting for sweeping social change, would arm me so well to succeed in a corporate restructuring firm. I hope that my G/S colleagues and clients—accountants and attorneys, financial advisors and corporate executives—will find some important takeaways in the book.
If you are a Baby Boomer or Gen X manager, you might occasionally be frustrated by the work styles of your Millennial employees. These young adults grew up in an age of social media. They’re still learning how to be effective in a corporate environment. We senior managers can learn a thing or two from our twenty-something colleagues, for sure. And it’s important for us to be mindful of our differences, listen, and avoid passing judgment. What may come across as rudeness is more likely an inability to triage new information. It’s our job to help them adapt to the prevailing culture, and to gently advise them that mastering the hierarchy is the first step to moving up and maybe even changing it someday. And to do all that without being condescending, didactic, or pedantic.
As for Millennials, those among you who can figure out which parts of your sensibility are constructive while also taking the time to observe the corporate culture and, say, be at your desk at 8:30 a.m. because that’s what your boss cares about—you are the ones who are going to be the boss someday. I’ve heard some younger friends say, “I should be able to work from home and stay in my PJs all day.” Well, no one would love that more than me. But the fact is, in a lot of industries—and ours in particular—that just won’t fly. This is a world where being in the room matters. At G/S, we find solutions by coming together. And, unfortunately, not in our loungewear. When someone cures cancer and says “I did this at home in bed,” I will be the first to congratulate them. But that part never seems to happen.
And honestly, no matter where you work—on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, on Capitol Hill, or in Hollywood—the best way to get ahead is to listen to other people, take in what they are saying (even when it makes you angry), and make a sincere effort to find common ground. It’s not always easy, but that’s how great movies get made, successful apps get released, bills become laws, and companies thrive.
We all gain by cultivating self-awareness, to learn which aspects of our behavior are helping us and which might be holding us back, and by dealing with our colleagues—including those on the opposite side of a lawsuit or issue, our bosses, and our employees—with honesty and integrity.
Joe Solmonese is a Managing Director and a Founding Partner of Gavin/Solmonese, where he leads our Corporate Engagement practice; former President of the Human Rights Campaign; and former CEO of EMILY’s List. His new book. The Gift of Anger: Use Passion to Build Not Destroy, comes out September 12.