Assertive Leadership vs. Aggressive Leadership
Posted on October 21, 2013
Dave: Many leaders could benefit from being assertive. By this I mean that it is useful for people in an organization to have clear and consistent norms or guidelines or procedures that are then held to. So part of being assertive is to give clear and consistent norms and guidelines.
Often, however, leaders who make these assertions do not follow through with their actions, they don’t show by their own integrity that they are serious so people ignore guidelines that have been asserted.
Leaders may get frustrated that the guidelines are being ignored. So they shout and pound tables and get aggressive. I think if you are going to be assertive with people you need to earn it.
One of my thoughts about assertiveness is that one has to earn the right to be assertive. Those who have not behaved in a way that earns them the right to be assertive often default to aggressive behavior in order to “get their way.” This may lead to short-term results – but the trade-off is that long-term effectiveness goes down, people become more defensive and spend time thinking of clever ways to avoid the aggressive behavior…
Luis: You speak of aggression as leaders’ inability to make their points, aggression as a means to obtain short term results, people being defensive and energy wasted in figuring out how to avoid aggression… Why is this something so common and so commonly accepted in organisations?
Dave: There are lots of power relationships in organizations. If a person is in a position of power people may be afraid to say something about their aggressive behaviors.
What do you think a leader could do to earn the right to be assertive? How should or could a leader behave in order to have their assertiveness accepted?
Luis: Earning the right to be assertive is an interesting idea, and I would certainly like you to expand on it.
Aggression is too often used to get results but I would say it is more a power resource that a leadership one. Let’s just say that for me getting results through aggression is not leadership.
In Transactional Analysis (T.A.) being aggressive indicates an unhealthy relationship “I am OK but you are not OK”. Being assertive is a totally different story, it indicates a healthy relationship, “I am OK you are OK”. The “I am OK you are OK “ life position is not a power game, it indicates autonomy and respect in the relationship -see OK Corral
Indeed power relationships or power games are the primary driver in most organizations and something that people respond to automatically. Aggression would be a primary response, a kind of fight or flight response. Assertiveness is a more conscious response.
You mention another common force related to this in organisations: blame. A lot of people spend a lot of their time and energy blaming someone else for whatever situation to make sure by this that they are safe.
Putting the blame on someone else is also a form of aggressive behaviour. Again, the healthy response is the assertive response of “blame is not the issue, let’s work things out” as in Jim Davis’ Blame Model. Allocating blames does not allow progress in any situation.
Dave: Maybe “earning the right” to be assertive is really about being willing to follow your own guidelines.
If you lay out expectations for the ways others should behave, then you also need to show through your own behavior that you are following the same guidelines.
In a way this is like walking your talk, if you are assertive about the way things need to be done, then you also need to live up to the same standards in your own behavior.
What do you think? Please send your comment.