A Need for Assertiveness

 -  5/19/09

Managers at all levels are not as effective as they can be.

Bill was a talented, skilled and highly valued employee. His supervisor, Gary, was the nicest guy you could imagine. He was experienced and compassionate. There was just one problem: He detested confrontation and seldom took any corrective action when things started going wrong. He never told is team his expectations — maybe he didn’t have any — and his people often hungered for direction. But everybody liked Gary, and that was his goal.

Unfortunately, because of Gary’s passive approach to management, Bill left his team to join a competitor. In an exit interview, he said, “I was always frustrated. I never knew what was expected of me.” Next, Gary was fired because his team consistently failed to meet assigned goals.

Managers at all levels are not as effective as they can be. Recently, while working on a leadership development project in a research organization, we surveyed managers, their bosses and their direct reports to determine perceived strengths and weakness. For the most part, the managers were viewed as having many valuable strengths that their bosses and subordinates admired. There was, however, one area in which managers consistently got low marks: assertiveness.

Intrigued, we asked managers if they could explain why they and their peers were getting low scores in this area. The managers were clueless. Most viewed assertiveness as aggressive and negative behavior. They actually perceived a low score as a positive statement, but it wasn’t.

To figure out what was going on, we visited with some of the managers’ subordinates. Subordinates consistently complained that they seldom had real clarity about what was expected of them, and because they had no clear objectives, they seldom got praise. And when they did, it often was a complete surprise.

Managers that lack assertiveness likely will never achieve the results possible, and seldom do these passive managers advance to more prominent leadership roles. Frequently, a manager’s ineffectiveness and the ineffectiveness of his or her team begin with the organization’s failure to provide training and education on the importance of being clear about expectations and the reasons for them.

Article Keywords:   performance management  

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