A couple of cases recently have brought to mind the occasional need for leaders to be more assertive in their relationships with some people in the business.
Leaders need to be more assertive? Are you kidding, I hear you say?
Not at all. It is very surprising how diffident leaders in business can be when it comes to dealing with even slightly difficult members of the team.
First things first. If the leader has an inclusive and collaborative relationship with senior members of the team which is always desirable, rather than any “top down” direction then that freedom can from time to time be abused or at least tested.
If we give our people the freedom to express themselves then we must expect occasional strange thoughts and ideas to be expressed, sometimes forcefully.
Leaders need to lay down ground rules of behaviour that should be an integral part of the statement of values that underpin the whole of the ethos and culture of the business.
There is a fine line to be drawn between disagreement and outright mutiny. We should welcome some disagreement from time to time because that will engender debate whereas mutiny implies entrenched positions that are unacceptable.
The two cases in mind are different but the answer is much the same. In one case the team member has started to express strong opinions about his role and responsibilities that run counter to the needs of the business and he is becoming a problem. Focus on specific activities is what is needed, not a radical change in his functions.
In the other case a small department that to some extent has legacy issues mutely and deliberately refuses to do as the leader directs and visibly does what they think is required and what they obviously prefer to do.
There comes a time when the leader has to exert or at least assert authority for the greater good of the business. This can often run counter to the innate instincts of the leader and can lead to that often feared situation - confrontation.
It really is curious how many outwardly strong and confident leaders are reluctant to confront difficult situations and difficult people. Not surprising therefore that some situations can run on and on and get out of hand.
Most people in the business know full well when one of the team is becoming a problem and it can cause friction when there is no action. One of our Vistage speakers from the USA says that after visibly taking action you can expect people to say: “What took you so long?”
At some stage a solution is essential and only the leader can make that decision. However, confrontation can be achieved in different ways primarily by assertiveness or by aggression.
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.
Signs of aggression include direction in a raised voice, finger pointing, obvious signs of anger, signs of raised stress levels and general body language. Professor Steve Peters says it is the Chimp that is out and raging.
Assertiveness, which generally modifies chimp behaviour, means that 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.
What is required in both these cases is assertiveness, a firmness of approach that permits no discussion but only a change in attitude and an acceptance on the part of the individual of the needs of the business.
It is called “biting the bullet” or “grasping the nettle” and is a necessary and hopefully seldom needed part of the armoury of leadership. There comes a time, however, when it must be done.
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