When Letting Go of Aggression

By Chris Chittenden

“Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than polish.”

… Anne Bradstreet (1612? - 1672) US poet

Human beings are social beings. We live in communities with other human beings and much of our day is spent interacting with other people. Yet one of the most important aspects of being human lies in our drive to shape our world in the way we want. We seek to do this by constantly creating interpretations of situations in which we find ourselves and then taking action. The actions we take are a result of a combination of habitual patterns and conscious decisions. These conscious decisions are what we at Talking About term “declarations”.

If an individual was living in isolation then there would be no impediment to the decisions he or she takes. They make a decision and do what they want. However, in communities there are many people making many decisions and often the decisions one person makes will affect others. As a result, each one of us frequently has to decide whether to accept others’ decisions when they impact us. Regardless of whether an individual likes the decision or not, when they accept it, they give the person who made it authority. In other words, authority is a declaration of the right of a person or another to author valid declarations that concern that person.

This is the largely unseen dynamic that plays out for each one of us every day. It is a major cause of poor self-esteem, frustrations and relationship tensions.

For most of us, the first authority figures in our lives are our parents. When we were doing something they did not like they would seek to deal with this by talking sternly to us, threaten us with a loss or maybe even physically hit us. They would seek to control us through aggression and this is the first way that we learn about how to generate authority and, not surprisingly, it sticks. Look at any community and you will find people who generate authority by threat and force. Again it is no surprise that a large proportion of people in management roles use this aggressive approach to get things done. Without doubt this approach works to certain extent; however it has many negative impacts on those who work under aggressive managers.

The evolution of leadership education has shown over and over again that aggressive leaders are not as effective as those using more humanistic styles. When this is pointed out to leaders with an aggressive style, some of them decide they will take a different tack. Unfortunately, this often results in a rather passive style where the leader focuses on consensual styles of management and abdicates their authority. The results are often more detrimental than using the aggressive styles as decisions becomes less timely and accountability less clear.

The key to more effective leadership lies in a balance between relationship and task.

For example, an aggressive style of leadership will often be very directive - “Do what I tell you to do!” A passive leadership style will often be consensual and long-winded – “Let’s all sit down and discuss this until we can come up with a solution we can all agree with!” A balanced leadership style will retain authority yet involve others’ input – “I am responsible for this decision and ultimately it is mine to make. If we can agree on a consensus decision in the required time frame, then that’s great. Otherwise, I will make the decision at the time required and let you know why.”

Look at your leadership style or that of those around you. How balanced is it? If you are seeking to let go of an aggressive style then why not explore how a more balanced approach could still get things done but keep people involved. You may find it an interesting exploration.

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© 2009 Chris Chittenden