We're reading a lot these days about leaders who bully.
In "When the Boss is a Bully", a recent NY Times article points out that aggressive toughness has its rewards. Some people like the idea of a very task focused leader. Better to have a leader who gets the job done, albeit rudely, than one who nicely fails to deliver.
People tend to extend the benefit of any doubt to a leader who acts decisively, according to research cited in the Times article. One researcher calls this the "leader's rosy halo" effect, a tendency for others to fall back and follow someone who is bold, decisive, and confident. There is no evidence pushy leaders offer better solutions than anyone else, but others are attracted to decisiveness and tend to follow.
A key concept in the conflict styles framework is that every conflict style has strengths and weaknesses. We need all five styles. Don't write off toughness just because it's not nice.
I learned this the hard way in my twenties when I found myself regretting I had not been more firm with my dog in training. One day she ignored my call, as she often did. She ran onto a road, and died under a car.
Parents learn that there are moments when failure to be strict is to put a child's life or well-being at risk. And in a health emergency, we want a doctor who takes charge and give orders to co-workers, not one who dallies in nice dialogue with colleagues.
Every one has moments when insisting on something, without worrying about relationships or feelings of others, is the only right response. We should all cultivate the ability to be tough on demand for such moments. We should value leaders who can do that when duty requires it.
But toughness is an asset only in occasional doses. As a habit, a primary way of interacting, it's a liability whose damage grows with time.
In organizations, the costs of over-use by leaders can be vast. Competent, loyal individuals leave, teamwork deteriorates, aggressiveness spreads like a virus into all levels of the institution, morale plummets.
Costs often take a while to become evident. By the time they are acknowledged, the damage is huge and recovery slow.
Are you a leader who's pushy at times? I hope so. You may not be doing your job if your answer is never. But do you hold a healthy balance between pushing and nurturing?
Here are suggestions, drawn from the score report of my Style Matters conflict style inventory, for using the goal-oriented Directing conflict style (in the Thomas Kilmann instrument, Forcing) wisely, without falling into overuse:
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