What can we do about it?

Brace yourself. What follows is one of my dreaded Public Affairs columns. Bear with me. It does directly bear on your responsibilities and obligations as a business leader and manager.

I’m talking about the recent Buffalo mass shooting, because how can I not? That’s the Buffalo, New York mass shooting that took place one short week ago, not to be confused with the Buffalo Minnesota mass shooting that took place last year, nor, for that matter, any of the other 42 and counting 2021 and 2022 mass shootings vying for our attention (based on a threshold of four or more fatalities).

Mass shootings have become so common they no longer always rate front-page headlines, let alone the empty, ineffectual, clichéd calls for action that now typify our national response.

Which gets us to you … make that us, as business leaders … and the most important commentary I’ve read on the subject in recent memory.

It’s titled “Hate is not at the root of most mass shootings,” (James Densley and Jillian Peterson, Washington Post, 5/15/2022). The authors have spent years researching the subject and write authoritatively about it. Their conclusion, accurately summarized in the headline, is that when we treat these events as hate crimes we’re addressing the wrong root cause. And as usually happens when trying to fix a problem by addressing its symptoms, we’re getting nowhere.

Their highly perceptive point: Mass shootings begin with anger, not with hate. Yes, we really should have listened to Yoda, who famously said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Quoting from the article:

Searching for answers, angry men comb through the words and deeds of other angry men who came before, including past mass shooters. In the darkest corners of the Internet, they eventually find someone or something else to blame for their despair.

Perpetrators often choose scapegoats who represent their grievance with the world — people at their school, their workplace, a place of worship.

Anger, that is, comes first. Choosing a target for that anger comes later. Nor is there any reason to think the only targets angry people choose as their antagonists are members of some group they’re encouraged to hate. Domestic violence is an example of anger leading to targeting an individual.

Nor, for that matter, is there any reason to limit the list of those prone to anger to men.

And I’d be willing to bet, if there was a way to manage such a betting pool, that among KJR’s readership are leaders who oversee, as part of their workforce, people who feel deep-seated anger as a regular feature of their personalities.

As a leader, when you recognize that someone in your organization is deep-down angry, in an era of mass shootings you have, I think, a responsibility.

It isn’t that any randomly chosen angry individual is likely to be the next mass shooter. It’s that anger is an addiction. To the anger addict anger is pleasurable and expressing it more so.

And, unlike addictive substances, anger is contagious. Anger addicts encourage their friends to be angry. On top of which, when someone is on the receiving end of an outburst, they become angry as well.

Anger creates a chain reaction where anger leads to more anger.

For business leaders the parallels between substance and anger addiction hold.

Except for positions where substance abuse can endanger those who depend on the abuser – pilots and operators of heavy machinery, for example – you can’t, and probably shouldn’t try to police drug and alcohol abuse, but you should police whatever workplace performance deficits come from it.

If an employee’s anger strikes you as extreme you should, of course, involve HR and intervene, but neither you nor HR play or should play the role of Emotion Police.

Bob’s last word: One of Densley and Peterson’s most important conclusion is, “No one living a fulfilling life perpetrates a mass shooting.” Which brings us to the role we each have to play.

It’s within the authority and remit of every business leader and manager to make their little corner of the workplace more fulfilling and rewarding.

No, we can’t make anyone’s life fulfilling and rewarding. But we can make employees’ lives more fulfilling and rewarding.

I don’t claim this will solve the problem of societal anger and the mass shootings it engenders.

But even if all we can do is help turn down the gain a notch, that’s a lot better than doing nothing.

Bob’s sales pitch: Next up on CIO.com is the latest CIO Survival Guide. It’s titled “How to make the consultant’s edge your own,” and I could be drummed out of the Consulting League for revealing our most important trade secret.

Okay, I made the drumming out part up. But I think you’ll still enjoy the article.