December 5, 2022

Small Business Advice

Can Your Leadership Style Be Too Aggressive?

Jerry Osteryoung | 9/21/2009
When running a company or managing people, you must be aggressive to achieve results, but is it possible to be too aggressive?

We are dealing with a very competent middle-level manager who is both very well-educated and a committed employee. He exceeds at everything his superiors ask of him, and he is 100% dedicated to the mission of the organization. He is well-liked but for one unfortunate attribute. Whenever he gets involved in anything, he just takes over, running rough shod over the others in the group and micromanaging it. Consequently, others do not show him any new ideas for fear that he will just take over.

The organization was considering a new training program for entry-level managers. While this manager had recommended a program like this many times before, no one seemed to pay attention. However, another manager had now made the recommendation, and it had reached the planning stages. A committee format was being used, and he was not involved. His presence was not requested, nor were his opinions solicited for fear that he would take over.

Obviously, his feelings were hurt as he felt he could contribute so much to this committee, and he certainly could. However, he just had never learned how to let go and be involved in something without being in charge.

Being a leader is not a 100% of the time job. Most leaders vacillate back and forth between being leaders and being followers depending on the conditions. For example, when attending meetings, a leader might simply be a participant rather than the leader; and when talking to staff, a leader might assume the role of a friend. The point is that leadership — and to some extent aggressiveness — is not a role that you want to spend 100% of your time in as it tends to alienate colleagues and staff.

Effective leaders are flexible in their style, molding it to fit the task that needs to be accomplished and the people who are involved. At times it is more effective to move people to a conclusion or a position using a persuasive style, as opposed to being directive.

This middle-level manager just never learned how to turn the switch off, and he defined himself with this type of role. While it served him for the majority of his work life, it was clearly not successful as he moved up through the organization. He had a very strong personality type, but if he was going to advance, he was going to have to learn how to turn that switch off and on as appropriate.

We worked with him, eventually getting him to see that it was okay to relinquish control and not be in charge all of the time. We were only able to really get this point across to him after having him do some role plays, recording them so that he could view the videos later. Upon reviewing them, he was quickly able to see how offensive his behaviors could become and how intimidating he could be. Watching himself through the camera lense allowed him to see a part of himself that he had not yet witnessed. It was enough to convince him to change his leadership style.

Now make sure that your aggressiveness is not overdone. One good way to monitor this is through a 360 degree evaluation, in which your superiors, your subordinates and colleagues at the same level evaluate your performance.

Jerry Osteryoung is the Director of Outreach of the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University, the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship; and Professor of Finance. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 850-644-3372.

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