Exceptional leaders understand the distinction between influence and intimidation. It’s not just whether you make an impact on people; it is the way in which you approach them that is significant. In any given situation, you must be aware of whether your leadership style is “soft” or “hard.” A soft approach occurs through encouraging, suggesting, consulting, inspiring, cheering, reassuring, and motivating. Hard influence is carried out through setting firm goals, laying down a challenge, enforcing, insisting, compelling, or urging.
A leader’s ability to influence requires versatility in both of these areas of impact. However, for many, it can be a challenge to deliver their message in a positive and balanced way. Problems arise when your attempt to get things done becomes overbearing and perceived as a “command and control” leadership style. Leaders who favor this approach are usually direct and can be excessively assertive in their communication style.
It is possible to lead effectively without being blatantly demanding. A direct leadership style may inspire many people, but others may find this type of leader intimidating, and they may therefore avoid saying or doing anything that could generate an adverse reaction. If your people are worried about disappointing you, they may avoid taking risks and share only the information from the “win” column, downplaying potentially troublesome issues.
The secret to managing a disproportionately assertive leadership style is to become more conscious of your emotions, and also adopting alternative communication styles. Consider the following:
1. Ask rather than demand.
By intentionally using “ask” language, you will achieve commitment from your associates, as opposed to compliance. More importantly, when someone agrees to your requests, they will have a more personal investment in the situation, more so than if they felt coerced into doing something. Make a concerted effort to shift your tone of voice, and choose your words carefully, to bring about a more favorable result.
2. Learn to “let go.”
Controlling leaders tend to be competitive, viewing the outcome of negotiations through the lens of winning and losing. If you can let go of the notion that everyone has to see things your way, you will be much more successful in motivating others. Ask your people for their input, strive to be understood, and be mindful of the effect you have on them. There is no such thing as winning through intimidation if you want to be respected. If your associates view you as a bully, how influential will you truly be?
3. Talk less, and listen more.
Assertive leaders aspire to ensure others understand their views and expectations. People likely respect you for being forthright, although they may also try to avoid you for the same reason. There are abundant benefits to talking less, asking better questions, and listening more. Trust expands, and a deeper, more collaborative understanding of needs and values are established.
4. Check anger at the door.
Assertive or “Directive” personality types tend to have short tempers and struggle to understand those with less driven personality traits. More direct leaders may also have difficulty showing empathy for people who do not stand up for themselves. To effectively manage your frustration, practice intentionally defusing anger before engaging others, rather than trying to maintain your composure in real time. Mindfulness meditation is a valuable tool for lowering the volume of your emotions. Another preparation practice is to visualize a potential disagreement or conflict in advance.
What advantage would a calmer response provide? Aside from earning more respect from the other party, you will be more receptive to listening to reasons why the other person may be resisting. When you are caught off-guard and lose your temper, learn to apologize for feeling angry. By recognizing and owning anger by labeling it openly, surprisingly it will reduce its intensity. You also have the option to postpone or delay an interaction with someone if it isn’t feasible to moderate strong feelings in the moment.