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Sunday, 11 March 2012

Assertiveness, aggressiveness or bullying? It’s a very fine line!

The true leader who has the best interests of the business and its people at heart is generally a person of understanding, compassion, and sensitivity among other traits.

These enable the leader to relate to the team and, perhaps more importantly, for the team to relate to the leader.  

Ideally, the leader needs to encourage the team to think about their jobs, to put forward ideas however odd or bizarre, to give praise when due, to limit as far as possible the need to reprimand and to build a "no-blame" culture.

There is no question but that people react favourably to praise and negatively, in some way, to reprimand so it must be used with great discretion and care.  Essential at times, of course, but only sparingly.

Remember that most people are decent and honest and don’t come to work to cause trouble or be disruptive.  The percentage of their time where they are performing well or even adequately invariably outweighs the time that they are causing a problem.

 However, at some point in time, the leader needs to make his/her opinions transparent and clear.  In general a good leader does not give instructions but from time to time it has to happen when the occasion demands.

This can be a really difficult problem for the leader.  Instinctively, the desire is to be inclusive, to discuss and to solicit opinions, but in this case perhaps, quick action is essential and the leader has to be decisive on behalf of the team.

My great friend and renowned Vistage speaker, Lynn Leahy, taught me long ago that there is a huge difference between being assertive and being aggressive.

Assertiveness requires that the instructions are given with respect to the feelings of the team member whereas an aggressive approach rides roughshod over anyone’s feelings just to get the job done.

In these days of employment tribunals, sexism, racism, and general unpleasantness, there is also a fine line to be drawn between assertiveness, aggressive behaviour and worst of all, bullying.

Whatever the leader thinks about his/her behaviour, the only criterion is the perception of the recipient and while the leader may consider his/her approach to be reasonable and assertive in the circumstances, if the recipient perceives that he or she is being bullied, then that is the fact.

Perceptions are reality in the eye of the beholder and there is a real potential problem here for the leader.

Somehow the leader needs to engender a culture which helps the team to understand that in certain circumstances, decisions must be taken at speed and instructions from above must be acted upon with alacrity; all this without any semblance of aggression or bullying, and that is not an easy task.

If you ask any leader if they bully their people, most of them would react with absolute astonishment at the suggestion.  On the other hand, ask the team and you might just get a different answer.  It is a signal for a little self-assessment.

Totally irrelevant quote of the week:

"Whenever I hear music by Wagner I have an overwhelming desire to invade Poland" - Woody Allen

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1 comment:

Mike Armitage - Business Coach said...

Good point Ivan - if the employee's perception is reality (which it is), then the core responsibility of the leader must be sensitivity.

Great stuff, your blogs!

Mike