Whether you run a sales department or a crime syndicate, you’ll eventually have
to tackle the same Machiavellian question: Is it better to be loved or feared?
Model your managerial style after, say, the firebrand former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and you’ll achieve obedience through fear, but you won’t
have your followers’ loyalty. But if you try too hard to befriend and appease them, your team will languish without direction. Assertiveness is the X-factor that can make or break a leader despite strengths such as intelligence, charisma, and self-discipline, report Columbia University researchers in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “Truly effective leaders tend to tread a middle ground,” says Daniel Ames, PhD, the study’s coauthor, “pushing hard enough to get their way, but not so hard that they can’t get along.” Here’s how to follow their lead.
1. Find opportunity in disagreement
“The most effective leaders engage in cooperative problem solving,” says Ames. Not to be confused with compromising (which entails losing ground by splitting the difference), cooperative problem solving begets novel solutions that meet everyone’s needs.
2. Listen to yourself
Do you blame a lazy team for stalling your career? Perhaps you complain about subordinates’ not understanding your directives. “Such negative internal dialogue means you’re not being nearly assertive enough with a key team member: yourself,” says Carollyne Conlinn, founder of Full Spectrum Coaching, an executive coaching firm in Canada. “Get yourself back on track by creating a list of leadership goals and holding yourself accountable for meeting
3. Speak with your body
“Fifty-five percent of communication is nonverbal,” says Joyce K. Reynolds, an executive business coach whose corporate clients have included Lucent Technologies and Noven Pharmaceuticals. Effective leaders use this knowledge to their advantage. To place someone at ease, assume a relaxed, open posture with your body leaning slightly forward to indicate interest. Before making a point, perform a decisive hand gesture; a recent Harvard study shows that doing so implies credibility and honesty. More generally, present an image of assertiveness with an erect, comfortable posture and maintain good eye contact.
4. Read the situation
Effective leaders adjust their behavior as necessary. When a subordinate won’t take no for an answer, ratchet up. When an agitated client just needs to speak his mind, tone down. “Take cues from the situation and gauge how your behavior is playing with the other parties involved,” says Ames. “Sometimes you can push harder than you may have initially guessed. Other times, your behavior may be crossing a line and you need to step back and really rein it in.”