August Issue 2017


The Cost of Mistaking Aggression for Leadership

If leadership was only about being aggressive, all you will need is a few testosterone shots to produce leaders

By: Vivek Shukla

Often, we see people who use loud voice and display aggressive body language being promoted to leadership positions. Reason – they are perceived to be more persuasive than others to produce desirable results. Boards and promoters perpetually want someone to get things moving and in a short time span. The obvious choice is to have someone who will instil acute urgency so that people run around and accomplish the tasks at hand in no time. Little do they realise that it eats away the very fibre of a progressive organisation – employee loyalty.

Whenever you see good people in an organisation leaving, look carefully at the leadership. Chances are, you will see an aggressor dressed as a leader trying to make so called 'bold' decisions & making people comply

People leaving? Look at leadership

Whenever you see good people in an organisation leaving, look carefully at the leadership. Chances are, you will see an aggressor dressed as a leader trying to make so called 'bold' decisions and getting people to comply with him or else... He even gets applauded by the people above him. It appears that he is getting everyone to either slog hard or leave the pack.
Extracting commitment is not the same as extracting compliance. You can get the staff to come at sharp 9 AM and not allow anyone to move out till 6 PM by enforcing strict consequences for late comers and early goers. But getting them to give a 100% while they work at the shop floor is a different ball game altogether. In other words, over a long period, an aggressive leader cannot consistently extract commitment.
To lead, one must belong. And tyrants do not 'belong'. It is impossible to belong by striking fear in someone's heart. Yes, the report will be ready on time. Yes, the project may finish within the deadline. But belonging will be sacrificed at the altar of accomplishing that task. Shortly thereafter, the morale and enthusiasm will fall prey giving way to loyalty being withered. Very soon, either the tyrant will find himself flogging a dead horse or looking for a new horse to flog as the older one would have moved on. The cost that a company pays for mistaking aggression for leadership is irreplaceable.
In favour of the proponents of aggressive leadership styles – Machiavelli once remarked, 'It is important for a prince to be feared than to be loved'. But people do not realise is that opposite of love is not fear. Opposite of love is hate. And instilling fear, breeds hate. In organisations, people mostly do not retaliate openly, they just walk away when this hate reaches its boiling point. Interestingly, Machiavelli also points out that the prince must avoid hate at all cost.

Balancing power with compassion

Populist or overtly pleasing leaders are no good either. In this case, the organisation loses out on getting things done. They are not able to move people to get things done. The perception being weak and the failure to stand up for something that one believes in is important. It robs the organisation of significant results and progress.
A tenable solution to the conundrum lies in finding and developing leaders who are assertive and not aggressive. This, coupled with an ability to establish a deep connect with constituents, is an unbeatable combination. All then required is to harness the power of communicating the future in a way that galvanises and enthuses people.
This pedigree of a leader, who is neither tyrant nor a meek mouse, is rare. He empathises, yet emphasises. He is answerable to his juniors, yet he questions. He is a fine craftsman who balances power with compassion. He can ask difficult questions and yet not offend people. He can call people to account and yet be loved by them. He is a rare breed. But he does exist. All of us have seen or worked with at least one such leader.
Time has now come for the loud finger-pointing and table-thumping bully to make way for compassionate but firm leaders who listen keenly and communicate to create a future. Companies that promote aggression as a culture will lose out to companies that promote deep-rooted compassion and commitment.

About the author

Vivek Shukla works closely with top healthcare leaders to create strategic growth vectors for their healthcare organisations. Having been on both sides of the table, over the last 19 years, he has a deep insight into what will make a lasting impact in a growth or a turnaround story of a client.
He has also written over 100 published articles.
He currently works as a Senior Advisor with Frost & Sullivan, MENA & South Asia, and helps in Performance Improvement of leading healthcare players. He is also the Managing Partner for Surge Management Consulting.