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Submissive, Assertive, and Aggressive Management

November 13, 2011

An employee shows up to work slightly out of dress code. He is wearing a midnight blue shirt when the policy clearly states only light-colored shirts are acceptable. I find that if the manager says nothing he will communicate that the new acceptable standard is to be out of dress code. If he screams and yells the employee might just walk out and quit. It is hard for some new managers to find the middle ground of communicating an expectation without steamrolling associates.

Further, sometimes reports test managers more subtly. “I can’t believe the company is making us stay late again,” a report might vent to the manager. This is a test. The report is looking to validate their hypothesis that the company is abusing the associates’ time and making them stay late for no reason.

A submissive manager might reply saying, “I know…
…I don’t know what they were thinking.”
…you know how the brass at corporate are.”
…I guess it is what it is, right?”

When leaders ignore lateness, dress code violations, or process breakdowns they are telling their teams these behaviors are OK going forward. This is called submissive management, which happens when managers allow employees to violate their rights or the rights of the company. Over time, submissive managers begin to resent their teams for walking all over them. As employees continue to break rules uncontested the manager begins to feel disrespected, unappreciated and powerless.

An assertive manager would have shown empathy for the associate’s concern while communicating the company direction effectively. “I know it stinks to stay late, but you know this project could really mean a lot for our department in the long run. Some extra effort tonight will go a long way for us.”

Assertive management insists on the rights of the manager and the company without violating the rights of the direct report. Being assertive means confidently stating expectations. “Going forward I expect…
…you to be on time.”
…you to limit your lunch break to thirty minutes.”
…you to stick to the dress code.”

Assertiveness is different than aggressiveness. Aggressive management violates the rights of the direct reports. Over time, the reports begin to resent the aggressive manager for forcing them to comply with his direction. Aggressive managers violate rights by making reports feel…
…stupid by saying, “We’re going to have to stay late tonight. It’s not like you people have anyplace better to be.”
…afraid by threatening, “Anyone who leaves early is going to get written up tomorrow, or maybe worse.”
…embarrassed by calling them out by saying, “You hear that everyone? Mary over here is afraid of a little hard work.”

Leaders set the standard for their teams by assertively communicating direction that aligns associate interests with organizational goals. Being assertive gives associates a clear understanding of their instructions, and this clarity improves performance. Assertiveness also lowers costs (i.e. turnover, conflict, etc.) by preventing resentment from creeping into the workplace.

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