Can you be too pushy in your quest for getting results?

Is it your job to be liked or to get results? Can you do both? This is an important questions for leader-managers and for project managers.

A study asked lots of MBA students, in three separate studies using both qualitative and quantitative methods, how they saw each other and how they saw their past bosses in terms of like-ability and the ability to get things done. They found that too little and too much assertiveness marks people as ineffective–the inverted U-shape. When you’re too assertive, you have poor working relationships; when you’re not assertive enough, you have poor results. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to be perceived as either too assertive or not assertive enough by your followers.

Whether you’re dealing with conflict, influencing people to do something, or motivating your team, you want to be like Goldilocks and find the ‘sweet spot’ of ‘just right’–moderately assertive–because in the studies, assertiveness levels were complained about more than any other leadership trait–charisma, conscientiousness, intelligence, and so on.

Now you can have your cake and eat it, too.



Who makes the best leaders–men or women and what makes both bad leaders?

Well, it depends who you ask.

When you ask male leaders, men are significantly more effective than female leaders. But everyone else rates women as significantly more effective than men, particularly in business and educational organisations and middle and senior management positions.

This is according to a meta-research analysis of 95 studies of leadership effectiveness covering almost 50 years and tens of thousands of leaders. Why then, do men continue to be paid more than women and advance to more senior levels? I’ll leave you to answer that question for yourself!

Meanwhile, since 65 to 75 per cent of followers say their bosses are the worst part of their jobs, let’s take a look at what makes for a truly bad leader no matter what their sex. A review of studies of personality, leadership and organisational effectiveness summarises poor leaders as follows:

  • They betray your trust: They break promises and let people down.
  • They can’t build a team: To do that takes trust, strong interpersonal skills and a host of other capabilities we’ll take a look at next week.
  • They can’t cope with promotion: This is the Peter Principle at work–promotion beyond your level of competence; everything falls apart when they’re put in charge.
  • They don’t get results: They do the right thing and set high goals, then proceed not to reach them.
  • They have poor interpersonal skills: Poor leader-managers are the opposite of humble; they’re up themselves, cold, insensitive and unpleasant to underlings.

If you’re a female leader-manager, you know what to guard against. If you’re a male leader-manager, maybe you’d better be doubly on your guard!

How to build a great team

Imagine leading a team of people enthused about and energised by their work. Some of the team members may come and go and work at odd hours but however they work, they turn in quality results. They can work on their own or in sub groups and when the time comes, they all pull together to get the work out on time. How can you build a team like that?

  • Bring on board team members with good interpersonal skills because team success is correlated with the average social sensitivity of team members, not their average intelligence. Members of high-performing teams listen and talk to each other, about social matters as well as work-related matters. They’re so in tune with each other and with what each team member is trying to achieve that they know what information or help people need before they ask for it. Communication based on trust and mutual regard is everything.
  • Build a culture of trust, because unless people trust each other do do their jobs well, to lend them a helping hand when it’s needed and so on, they can’t work together well. How trustworthy is a team? Only as trustworthy as the least trustworthy team member.
  • Mix it up. The same study cited above also found that high-performing teams are made up of both sexes. Effective teams are also made up of people with different personality types.
  • Make sure everyone on the team understands the team’s overarching purpose in the same way. This acts like a team mission statement to show the light at the end of the tunnel (where we’re going together) and guide decision making and day-to-day behaviour.
  • Provide clear individual and team goals and make sure people know how they contribute to the rest of the team’s efforts. When people don’t know what’s expected of them and why their contributions count, it’s hard to fan the internal fire of motivation. When team members need training or coaching to reach their goals–provide it.
  • Have some fun. It’s really hard to do a good job when you’re physically or emotionally miserable; a bit of jollity builds bonds, enhances creativity, improves communication and makes everyone feel better.
  • Blow your team’s horn. Visibility is important, so make sure you let others know how great your team is and what they’re achieving.
  • Be a good leader. Look after both the task side of teamwork and the process side.

Have you noticed how each of these relates to the other? Like any living system, all the components are interrelated.

Put your best foot forward

Has anyone ever pulled that trick on you where they say ‘Oh, there’s something on your chin’ while they rub their cheek with their hand? Naturally, your hand goes to your cheek, not your chin. What people do is far more powerful than what they say.

In fact, 93 per cent of what you communicate comes from your body language and your voice, while only seven per cent comes from the actual words you use. You’re constantly sending messages without speaking a single word. The fact is, everything you do communicates. Whenever you move or change your posture, your seating position or your facial expression, you’re communicating something about your attitudes and feelings. So does the way you dress.

This powerful wordless language can build you up or let you down so that you either put your best foot forward, or trip over it. For example, research shows that:

  • People who make more eye contact are viewed as more intelligent (unless you lock onto their eyes with yours–then they think you’re a psycho!) while people who avoid eye contact are seen as insincere and lacking in conscientiousness.
  • People who speak faster are thought to be more competent while slow speakers are assumed to be less truthful and are less persuasive; people who uhm and ah a lot appear not to know what they’re talking about.
  • Dressing well makes you seem successful and wearing expensive clothes adds to your ability to influence people.
  • When you wear practical and ‘affordable’ shoes, people think you’re agreeable while expensive shoes and pointed toes make them think you’re not very agreeable at all!
  • People assume if you have multiple facial piercings, you’re less intelligent.
  • If you’re a woman and you have a tatoo, people jump to the conclusion that you’re promiscuous.

So it pays to pay attention to the way you sit, stand, and carry yourself. It pays to pay attention to the way you dress, the jewellery you wear and the accessories you carry, because they send clear messages, too. They tell people how you view yourself and how you want others to view you. So it’s worth taking care to dress appropriately and make sure your posture is poised and self-possessed. The more you fiddle, shuffle, shift or sprawl, the more you signal ‘I’m nervous and ill at ease.’

Paying attention to the silent messages you send helps you put your best foot forward. Paying attention may feel awkward at first but when you stick with it. it becomes automatic in about three weeks. You won’t even need to remind yourself to put your best foot forward.