Because I have just completed a writing project for a person who was the client from hell, I smiled when I saw posted today on LiveScience an article "Researchers Uncover Best Bosses’ Success Secret" about the continuum between overly aggressive and Mister Nice Guy. A study has shown that operating at either end of the continuum diminishes the success of people in supervisory roles. Might I add that hanging out at either of those ends can hurt effective client representation and service, too, whether it is the lawyer or the client who is doing the hanging.
The researchers found that leaders tend to miss the mark when it comes to assertiveness, either erring on the side of overly aggressive or Mr. Nice Guy. This overlooked Achilles heel of a successful manager could cost companies big time in terms of high turnover and low productivity, they suggest.
"Aspiring leaders who are low in assertiveness can’t stand up for their interests, and they suffer by being ineffective at achieving goals and delivering results,” said co-researcher Daniel Ames of Columbia University Business School.
Too much assertiveness can be just as, if not more, detrimental to a manager’s success.
“People high in assertiveness are often insufferable. So, even though they may get their way, they’re choking off relationships with the people around them,” Ames said.
In the study, respondents were asked about leadership strengths and weaknesses. Over half of those responding cited too much or too little assertiveness as weakness. (Conscientiousness, intelligence and charisma were the top responses in the list of strengths.)
Another way of identifying the two ends of the continuum is "getting along and getting one's way." Each is a double-edged sword.
A drop from high to low assertiveness boosts social benefits and a bump from low to moderate yields an increase in concrete achievements.
At either extreme, the results boil down to company costs, as overbearing bosses can trigger a wealth of turnover and submissive managers can arrest profit-generating achievements.
“In both cases, one of the costs would be turnover, especially for highly assertive managers. They may be so abrasive that subordinates can’t develop an effective working relationship with them and leave or move elsewhere in an organization."
“At the low end, unassertive managers and leaders are simply just less capable of achieving their operational objectives, they can’t push as hard, they can’t gather the resources, they can’t move projects forward as well and that all ends up being costly in operational terms for the organization."
The researchers do not necessarily recommend moving to the middle, but they do advise adding skills to the repertoires of the continuum extremists. For example, overly assertive people might do well to improve their listening skills. That's not a new finding in the realms of common sense and experience. Tell me, do you think they will listen if you tell them they are acting like jerks?
I have begun a post about my experience with this above-mentioned client and some tips I have learned through my shocking experience with him. As a preview, I will tell you he was no Mr. Nice Guy but hung out steadfastly at the overly aggressive end of the continuum. His aggressiveness was exacerbated by lack of basic courtesy and a two-year-old's grasp of productive interactions. What do you do with clients like that?