One of my recent coaching clients, whom I’ll call Rodney, was senior director of sales for a medium-sized company. Rodney had a reputation of being a bully. He ordered people around, very rarely offered information about sudden changes in projects, and had harshly criticized one of his employees in front of other
Rodney had been working for the company for over ten years, and was a high performer, and had not been considered a bully until he got his last promotion.
When I spoke to Rodney about his behavior he said, “I just believe in being direct. I tell it like it is. Some people just can’t handle being told the truth. They’ll never improve if someone doesn’t keep them in line.” He then told me, “I’ve always been assertive.”
It took several coaching sessions before he allowed that maybe, just maybe, there
might be a better way of being a leader. I helped him see that a title, and power does not make someone a leader. You can be in a leadership role but not play that role very well.
Rodney got it right that leaders need to be assertive, but what he didn’t get right was
that he was being aggressive and not assertive.
Rodney had to learn to be an assertive leader as opposed to being an aggressive
bully. Aggressiveness may get you attention, but it doesn’t get your heard. If you want to be heard, and you want your employees to love to do their best work, you need to learn the difference between aggressive behavior and assertive behavior.
Decide for yourself whether you are an assertive leaders who makes people feel included, or an aggressive bully who shuts people down.
Assertiveness means that you are able to stand up for yourself and your ideas in a way that does not violate or impinge on the rights of others.
You are able to communicate in such a way that you get your point across without
personally attacking others. It means that you can clearly articulate your
point of view, and what you want from other people.
You don’t need to make yourself look good at other people’s expense.
Aggressiveness means that you attack other people
personally, invalidate their self-worth and shut down their ideas. You put your
need to be “right,” first, and discount other people. It is not the same as
being direct, and assertive.
Assertive leaders know how to listen and be heard.
They know how to say no, and hear no without getting defensive and taking it personally.
Do you want people to listen to your ideas, and want to work with you, or do you want them to hate you, and hide every time they see you?