Entrepreneur Ethan and Entrepreneur Emma are similar in a lot of ways. They have built successful businesses from the ground up; are creators of innovative products, and are considered by their peers as visionaries. But there is a major difference between them. Probably the best way to explain this difference is to observe them in action.
One morning, Ethan’s production manager enters his office at which point Ethan launches into an inquisition. Apparently there is an issue on the assembly line and Ethan wants to get to the bottom of it. The production manager begins to explain the problem, but Ethan interrupts and cuts him off. He raises his voice and his face turns red – it’s obvious that he’s agitated. Eventually he stands up, paces and gestures frequently.
Across town, Emma is meeting with her sales manager who is explaining issues involving a downturn in sales. Emma sits calmly and listens to the entire presentation. She doesn’t say anything for a few moments and then asks several very direct questions. Her expression never changes as her clear blue eyes focus like lasers on her associate. Emma is the picture of composure and finally offers her opinion in a steady and measured voice.
How would we characterize the behavior of Ethan? And how about that of Emma? The word that describes Ethan is “aggressive” and the word that describes Emma is “assertive.” There’s no question that Ethan was heavy handed in his approach with the production manager. It’s almost like he was trying to overpower the guy. By contrast Emma was able to demonstrate her leadership forcefully without showing anger.
Assertiveness or aggressiveness – which is the more effective leadership style? While it may depend upon the circumstances, assertiveness has a higher probability to successfully influence others. Think about it. Are we more receptive to someone who is positive or someone who is negative? An assertive leader may be straightforward and even direct, but never belittles or resorts to intimidation.
Why are some leaders too aggressive? I believe that one explanation could be a lack of confidence, some sort of insecurity, or a combination of both. People who are concerned about being “found out” may use aggressiveness as a smokescreen. Leaders who are overly aggressive may cause morale problems. When negative energy is created it is difficult to maintain a productive environment. Aggressive people may be prone to mercurial outbursts and unnerving stares which further contribute to the unhealthy atmosphere that has been created.
For entrepreneurs building a business (and anyone else for that matter), a gut check is in order to determine one’s position on the aggression meter. Aggressive tendencies can be tempered when we learn how to become more assertive. And the first step is to recognize when our aggressive behavior is about to go on display. It’s important to identify a trigger that alerts us that we need to shift gears. This will require some real introspection to make this discovery. Then we must emulate the behavior of an assertive person. We become impassive with our facial features. We project calm. We lower the volume of our voice and we show respect for those with whom we interact. Changing one’s reputation as an aggressive personality is a tall order. But with awareness and effort such a change can be accomplished.
Assertiveness is a positive quality that can enhance our leadership style. And through awareness and commitment it’s possible to eliminate aggressive tendencies and replace them with the assertive traits that are desirable.
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.