I recently had the opportunity to interact with a “successful” local company and they asked me to review a questionnaire that they require prospective hires to compete.
There were 8 or 10 sort of boiler plate, interview-type of questions, which were all well and good but there was a particular question which stood out to me as curious.
The question was:
Assertiveness & Dominance – The ability to express one’s ideas and opinions with conviction and authority is a key element in building the confidence of other people. How have you used these to get a group to do what you wanted?
This question quickly conjured up a couple of mental images. The first was the scene from the movie Snow Dogs where Cuba Gooding Jr. bites the ear of the lead dog to establish his dominance. The second was of a smoke-filled conference room with employees caught in an epic struggle to shout the others down in a cage match for control.
- As I pulled myself back to reality, I began to wonder have I softened over the years?
- Is it possible that assertiveness and dominance have a place in strong leadership values?
Those terms certainly seem antithetical to the concept of servant leadership.
Let’s see if we can a better feel for the word and what it really means.
dominance [dom-uh-nuh ns]
Dictionary.com defines dominance as: rule; control; authority; ascendancy.
As I noted previously, there is a consideration of dominance as it relates to animals. Certainly many species of wild animals have a hierarchy built on a number of factors. Even domesticated animals exhibit these traits.
A Little Closer to Home
In the wild, animals face life and death situations every day. Adhering to a hierarchy that involves dominance for safety or survival makes perfect sense.
However employees shouldn’t have to face these survival compulsions during their daily work ritual.
Many years ago, before the birth of our son, we got a dog. He assumed his spot as third in line of dominance after my wife and me. A year later, our son was born and other than a little jealousy there was no friction between the dog and the baby.
At about three years old, our son began tending to the dog, letting outside, and giving the treats afterward. The dog DID NOT like this. He had slipped down a notch in the pecking order. The behaviors that manifested in the dog relate to a wild world based on hierarchical dominance. As human being, we are called to something higher than this base behavior.
We are called to be leaders of people.
A Higher Calling
When it comes to leadership, do what is valued: build solid rapport with workers.
Everyone needs to brush up on actions that imply ability and competence (called “task cues” in the psych trade) and play down their dominance cues (actions that imply control and threat), reports a team of psychologists headed by James E. Driskell, Ph.D.
In one study, 159 college students, male and female, listened to the pitches of task-oriented speakers and the same arguments from dominance-oriented speakers, male and female. Almost everyone thought men and women who exhibited task cues were more competent, group-oriented, and likable. Those showing dominance cues were thought of as self-oriented and disliked.
For a corporate decision-making group sitting around a table in a board meeting, poise, attitude, and approach matter more than most people realize.
The biggest assets that an organization has are its employees. Maximizing their potential is paramount to successful leadership.
Old-school authoritarian management may have been and may still be prevalent in established companies, but it is more likely than not to be “the lid on growth” for organizations as described by John Maxwell in “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”.
The Law of the Lid states that leadership is like a lid or a ceiling on the organization. The organization will not rise beyond the level that leadership permits.
Unfortunately some businesses fail to acknowledge the value of leadership at all levels of the organization. They expect that the control of the people and problems on a daily basis will suffice. While dominate personalities may have brought the company to the point where it seemed “successful”, managers with a lack of vision may also fail to see what the company could be if it had a more enlightened leader.
Dominant and aggressive personalities bring forth the fight or flight and survival instincts in people. Effective leadership brings out the creativity, productivity and resourcefulness in individuals.
Equipping & Empowering
I suggest that the only place for the word “dominance” in the hallowed halls and boardrooms of today’s businesses, is in respect to how these businesses could dominate their market by embracing strong leadership values.
Leadership that equips and empowers the employees to communicate effectively and respect the contributions of all.
Challenges that face effective leaders are many. Rooting out old beliefs and out-dated management styles are among them. As leaders, we need to accept and adopt the leadership values that work best for us and our organizations to bring out the creativity, productivity, and resourcefulness in people.
So ask yourself these questions: Are dominance and assertiveness strong leadership values? Does respect or control work better as an influencer in the long run? Can we effectively equip new leaders through domineering control? I would love to hear your comments.
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