Recently several articles have described the role of confidence in leadership. The articles, excerpted below, detail how too much confidence/assertiveness result in the perception of a leader as an egotistical jerk (men) or aggressive bitch (women) who does not play well with others. Definite career derailers in most organizations! A lack of confidence or aggressiveness, if perceived as shy, fearful, indecisiveness, or overly accommodating, is equally harmful to a leader’s presence and effectiveness.
Discovering the right level of confidence for you requires getting objective feedback and developing your self-awareness. As one of the authors writes, the key to learning how to be more appropriately confident and assertive is to understand the organizational context, assess your behavior, and then make the appropriate adjustments.
De-Constructing Executive Presence
Author John Beeson in this HBR article says, “executive presence is ... boils down to your ability to project mature self-confidence, a sense that you can take control of difficult, unpredictable situations; make tough decisions in a timely way and hold your own with other talented and strong-willed members of the executive team.”
Beeson asserts that executive presence can be developed — if you have “a baseline of self-confidence and a willingness to deal with the unpredictable situations that go with the territory at the executive level.” He suggests that you, “start by addressing the basics. Find a couple of trusted people who will give you unvarnished feedback…”
“Most important, find your voice as an executive: that is, identify your assets and leverage them to the hilt. Some people are naturally gregarious and can fill a room with their personality. Others…rely on their listening ability, sense of timing, and ability to maintain their composure when others get emotional.“
How to Be Assertive (Without Losing Yourself)
In another HBR article, author Amy Gallo declares, “Managers need some degree of self-confidence to be effective.” "The right amount of assertiveness, respect for others, and intelligence is what makes a great leader," says Lauren Zander, co-founder and chairman of the Handel Group.
"There's a sweet spot for assertiveness. If you're below the range, you're not going to get your way. If you're above it, you're not getting along with others," says Daniel Ames, a professor of management at Columbia Business School. “Assertiveness is not universally understood to be a positive trait. Before you make changes to your behavior, know the context you are working in. Does the culture — national, regional, or organizational — truly value forcefulness? Or do you work in a situation where a persuasive, quiet approach is sometimes more esteemed?”
Echoing a theme from my recent posts on Women and Negotiation, the article points out that whether your assertiveness will be rewarded also depends on your gender. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, author of How Women Mean Business warns that women who ask for what they want are often described as "bitchy and aggressive." Ames agrees: "The range of latitude for women is smaller for what they can get away with," he says. Consider the implications of your behavior before you alter it.
Why Every CEO Needs a Coach
Cited in this Psychology Today article, a study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision, concluded one characteristic of powerful and successful leaders is high levels of self-confidence. “Unfortunately, the researchers say, the higher the self-confidence, the less likely these leaders are open to advice and feedback. They also make the point that powerful leaders seldom get useful feedback in their organizations. Subordinates are loath to give bad news or critical feedback.”
The article’s main point is that lonely and stressed out CEO’s often benefit from a coach that can provide them with objective feedback and perspective. This is especially true because among all of the reasons why CEOs fail, most have to do with hubris, ego, and a lack of emotional intelligence. “Call it overconfidence or ego, but powerful and successful leaders often distrust or feel they don’t need advice from anyone.”
“Good leaders make people around them successful. They are passionate and committed, authentic, courageous, honest and reliable. But in today's high-pressure environment, leaders need a confidante, a mentor, or someone they can trust to tell the truth about their behavior. They rarely get that from employees and infrequently from board members.”
In my management and leadership development work, I use a behavioral profile called DiSC, which describes 4 different behavioral styles. The “D” or Dominant style is often described as verbally aggressive, insensitive, and impatient. Many executives I meet have a tendency to this style (the strengths of this style are decisiveness, accepts challenges, good problem-solvers, and get results). Those who have not learned how to adapt their D management style are often described by their employees as scary, fear-inducing, and prone to yelling.
A good article in today’s Wall Street Journal, When the Boss Is a Screamer makes the following points about these aggressive types in the workplace:
* Yelling bosses appear to be quietly disappearing from the workplace. The new consensus among managers is that yelling alarms people, drives them away rather than inspiring them, and hurts the quality of their work.
* Verbal aggression tends to impair employee’s/victims' working memory, reducing their ability to understand instructions and perform such basic task
* Even without yelling, there is still plenty of anger and frustration to be found in the workplace. Research show managers spend about 25% of their time resolving conflicts.
* However, expressing anger can be beneficial, helping people understand each other, strengthen relationships and improve attitudes and work performance. Just don't get angry too often, and when you do get angry, point out how the problem hurts other employees or the company rather than yourself, the study suggests.
* Tell the truth about problems and frustrations, but in a measured, calm way. Using short, seven-to 12-word sentences that start with "I," describe your emotions and state the problem. For example, "I hear what you're saying but I can't agree with it.
* Consider waiting 24 hours before responding to a colleague or customer, and then taking a softer approach.
* To get people focused on a problem, lower your voice and speak very slowly. "It forces people to dial down their own volume just to hear you. They lean in and hang on your every word."
In dealing with an office screamer, it's best not to react at first. Listen to what the screamer is trying to say, then summarize it calmly, "so they feel they've been heard." That may calm the screamer enough to let you state your position or start talking about solutions. For another perspective, check out this WSJ article: Arguing with the Boss: A Winning Career Strategy
In an excellent article on today’s HBR blog, the Discipline of Less, Greg McKeown points out how both individuals and organizations are more successful when they have clear focus. He describes the 4 phases of what he calls the “clarity paradox”:
1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
2: When we have success, it leads to more options and
3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads
to diffused efforts.
4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our
success in the first place.
In my strategic planning work with organizations, I often find myself reminding the participants that Planning is not necessarily a synonym for growth. Scaling down activities (or eliminating them) may often be the most appropriate planning decision. Thus having the discipline to “do less”will lead to greater success.
In my personal career, I have too often been lured toward a job that I knew was not in line with my goals and needs, but the flattery of being asked, or
the money or security offered, outweighed my instincts. A wise counselor once told me that I needed to “beware the seduction of opportunity.” I often think of that advice when coaching individuals or planning with organizations.
In his article, McKeown goes on to make this case for the “disciplined pursuit of less” both in your career as well as in organizational planning. “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just once a year as part of a planning meeting, but constantly reducing, focusing and simplifying. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well. Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”