Aggressive Leadership: Good or Bad?

by on Jun 26, 2024

If you were ever labeled as bossy or aggressive during childhood, odds are you were exhibiting the raw materials needed to form an excellent leader someday. But what if you’re in that leadership position now and you still get told you’re too aggressive?

Aggression isn’t all bad when it comes to strong leadership, but it certainly needs to be wielded with care.

The three main leadership styles

In general, there are thought to be three primary leadership approaches

  1. Aggressive leadership. Defined by self-assurance, a commitment to success, and the ability to perform under pressure, aggressive leaders get a lot done but are sometimes intimidating to their team. However, they can also motivate others to achieve their goals.
  2. Assertive leadership. This approach is thought to be the “happy medium” style that leans into collaboration, clear communication, and constructive feedback. Team members under an assertive leader often feel empowered to do their best work.
  3. Passive leadership. In contrast to the other two approaches, passive leaders are ineffective decision-makers, risk averse, and reluctant to confront conflict. This type of leadership really only works with a highly autonomous and self-motivated team.

 

Each of these styles can be used in the right context to achieve team success. The best leaders know when to apply each type of leadership based on the situation or the individual they are working with.

When to avoid aggression

If you tend to come across as aggressive, there are a few situations in which an assertive or passive approach might serve you better. 

First, when you are tasked with direct criticism of an individual team member, an assertive approach will not only do less harm but will also be more effective. An aggressive critique might take place in front of others, with a raised voice, immediately after a mistake. This can lead to resentment and resistance to change. In contrast, an assertive critique prioritizes privacy if possible, is mindful of body language, and lets some time elapse so emotions are not running as high.

Another time to temper your aggression is when it might burn a bridge with a colleague or potential collaborator. This will likely require the use of your intuition to identify individuals who will not respond well to an aggressive approach and calibrate accordingly. 

Finally, aggression should rarely be used over text or email. While it may seem like this would dilute an aggressive approach, it actually amplifies potential harm as it allows individual interpretations to take your intent out of context. 

When to use aggression

There are times in every leader’s career in which an aggressive approach is the best path forward.

The first scenario in which aggression is an asset is during a crisis. This could mean a true emergency or natural disaster, or it could refer to a decision that must be made immediately in response to unforeseen market changes. Either way, this is the time to let your inner aggression take over and lead with confidence under pressure. Others will look to you for direction.

Aggressive leadership also helps with boundary setting. When certain team members repeatedly violate the group’s social contract or the company values, your aggressive nature may enable you to better confront the conflict. This is a situation where it is actually beneficial to push back on the behavior in front of the whole team, demonstrating your authority and letting it be known that the violation will not be tolerated.

Similarly, aggressive leadership can swoop in to defend an underdog or prevent a catastrophic decision from being made. In situations that call for a defender of a person or idea, your aggression can actually become an asset when wielded with precision.

Aggression is just one piece of a healthy leader’s toolkit. If you want to take a better look at your own levels of aggression and compare them to other traits you exhibit or lack, download our free guide “Know What It Feels Like to Work with You: The Elusive Key to Effective Leadership and Team Assessment.”