So, aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive, assertive… What’s your leadership style?
Believe it or not, although we may use a mixture of styles, most leaders come down on the too-soft side — they’re too passive. But wait, let’s back up and define the terms we’re using here.
- Aggressive – You are direct in expressing your needs, wants, and opinions and you don’t give much thought to other peoples’ needs or wants. Think bully.
- Passive -You do not express your needs, wants, and opinions directly. In essence, you put others’ needs above your own. Think wimp. (Oops. Did I just say that out loud?)
- Passive-aggressive – You indirectly make others aware of your needs, wants, and opinions. Think manipulative.
- Assertive – You clearly express your needs, wants, and opinions in a way that is considerate of others.
So, why do most leaders prefer a passive approach? Well, asserting yourself, especially when you’re not used to it, can be a bit uncomfortable. And God forbid we should experience five consecutive minutes of discomfort. In his book, Grow a Pair: How to Stop Being a Victim and Take Back Your Life, Your Business, and Your Sanity, author Larry Winget says that we have become a society addicted to comfort and we have all become weenies. (No sugar coating there.)
We go along to get along. We are so averse to any kind of conflict, confrontation, or “crunchy conversation” that we accept poor performance and give middle-of-the-road evaluations rather than address the fact that employees aren’t meeting expectations. Sometimes managers are in denial about a problem. (And no, I don’t mean a river in Africa.) Leaders simply don’t want to address the elephant in the room.
I most often see people who would much rather talk about an employee, rather than talk to the employee. Typically the person with the poor job performance is the last to know. And that’s a real tragedy, because most people would rather get negative feedback than no feedback at all.
People are also passive because they crave approval from others. Let me break the news to you:
Leadership is not a popularity contest.
If you approach it as such, you will become a complete pushover and you should fork over your… er, leadership card.
The result of this passivity is that there is no trust or respect among leaders and team members, job performance and business results are sub-par, customer service is abysmal, and most alarming, accidents and serious errors are more likely to happen in this work environment.
But take heart. Assertiveness is a skill that you can learn. It will take practice, but I think you’ll find that by asserting yourself you will not only eliminate the uncertainty of those on your team, you will also shrink your own stress levels. And who doesn’t want that?
Try these tips to be a more assertive leader:
- Summarize the problem using only the facts. Don’t beat around the bush, exaggerate, or sugar coat it. Just be factual and objective.
- Express how his/her actions make you feel. Use an “I” statement to describe your feelings, but don’t get emotional. Be confident and firm, making good eye contact while you speak.
- Explain the business consequences of the actions you described.
- Clearly state what specific actions you want him/her to take in the future, and any consequences if he/she fails to take those actions. Of course, and this is important, be prepared to follow through with those consequences if necessary. No wimping out here!
Being assertive means confidently and proactively speaking up to solve problems. It’s about finding the balance between aggressive behavior and a passive approach. In other words, assertiveness is just right.
- What approach do you typically take?
- How have you managed to become more assertive?
I’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment below and share your insights with our community.
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Jennifer Ledet, CSP, is a leadership consultant and professional speaker (with a hint of Cajun flavor) who equips leaders from the boardroom to the mailroom to improve employee engagement, teamwork, and communication. In her customized programs, leadership retreats, keynote presentations, and breakout sessions, she cuts through the BS and talks through the tough stuff to solve your people problems.