When someone describes a leader as ‘aggressive’, the notion refers to them being pushy and brash. That they always have their way and run the show with an autocratic measure.
In reality, the real aggression is less about optics & shenanigans, and more about decisive action.
Over a long tenure, assertive & decisive leadership outperforms aggressive leadership – there are plenty of examples from just this past decade.
The paradoxes of aggression
Assertive leadership is trying to be wrong less often. So they nurture a culture of deep thinking and open debate. They encourage their core team to contribute to honing the idea by putting it through rigorous thinking, questioning and refining. They actively seek early feedback to save time, effort and resources later. In their quest to avoid debates and force alignment, Aggressive Leaders end up with half-baked output from a team that is dissatisfied because they didn’t feel like they were heard.
Assertive leadership is valuing the importance of focus on what is essential above everything else. So they define an ambitious vision and stick to it – especially when it gets tough. They use the power of repetition to ensure everyone stays on track and focused. Whereas Aggressive Leaders end up veering off the course from the vision because they optimise for staying busy at any cost, instead of staying focused.
Assertive leadership is knowing the importance of building a unique competitive advantage, even when it takes time. So they pick a strength and invest in a prolonged dedicated effort to become the absolute best at it. Be it culture of growth, happy people, technological edge, great product retention, tacit knowledge, domain expertise – anything worth having takes years of effort to attain. Aggressive Leaders who expect moats to be built overnight tend to underestimate the dedication and patience it takes to build one, and they often end up with none.
Big moats are only achieved when you have the patience for slow compounding.
Assertive leadership is recognising the importance of protecting the team’s focus and productivity. So they indulge in no drama & surprises, and instead build a predictable operating cadence to ensure their team is able to do their work with high throughput and focus. A team that knows what’s expected out of them and when, is the best at producing exactly that at a high quality. Aggressive Leaders who don’t clarify clear expectations, responsibilities or timelines end up keeping their team on their toes the entire time, leading to a frustrated and burned out team.
People join startups primarily for two reasons: Non-linear career growth, and financial growth. Assertive leadership is creating a culture that fuels people’s growth. When people see themselves growing along with the company, they stick around longer and work harder. Aggressive Leaders overindex on company’s growth without connecting it back to people’s growth. They end up losing out on top talent that leaves dissatisfied and full of resentment.
You can’t retain people if they don’t feel like they’re growing. There’s no other secret to this.
Assertive leadership understands the morale value of being in the arena with the team. So they stand with their team through thick and thin, celebrate small wins and commiserate the tough times – all while communicating openly with honesty and transparency. There’s no substitute for a sense of shared joy and pain. Aggressive Leaders in their need to lead with fear often end up creating an unnecessary distance from the team, often losing out entirely on the empathy that could’ve made all the difference.
You can be as demanding as you want, as long as you’re supportive and empathetic.
The real aggression is assertion
The real aggression is assertion – being objective, decisive and clear.
- You’re objective when you remove your personality, biases and assumptions from the equation, and assess with facts and data.
- You’re decisive when you take timely and concrete action.
- You’re clear when you articulate your thinking and expectations in detail.
That’s the meat. The rest is gravy.