Does Aggressive Leadership Work?

BadBossThe Rutgers Coach

I had breakfast with a group of friends this morning, evenly divided male/female.  The topic of the Rutgers coach who got fired came up.  I don’t think anyone in the discussion had seen more than a brief clip of the video that detailed the coach’s aggressive behavior toward his athletes.  “Like Bobby Knight” was a quick comparison that came up in the discussion.  Then someone said, “That aggressive style works.”  Participants (all male) in the discussion cited their own experiences with aggressive coaches or bosses and defended that style as effective.  (Since none of these folks had seen the video, they were not defending this coach’s behavior specifically, but an aggressive coaching/leadership style generally).

My position was that aggressive leadership styles work as long as the leader is physically present or likely to be in the vicinity, but that “when the cat is away” the style stops working.  In fact, it is my experience that aggressive (or worse, abusive) styles are more destructive than constructive because they create negative reactive behaviors, damage employee/leader  (or coach/athlete) relationships, and are short term effective, long term destructive.  They rely on bullying rather than inspiring.

So, I throw this out to you.  What do you think.  Does the aggressive style used by some coaches and lots of managers work?  Is it ok?  Is it productive or destructive?  Is it more acceptable for those who have experienced it in their lives than for those who have not, but have only watched it from afar?



Filed under Executive Development, Leadership

5 responses to “Does Aggressive Leadership Work?

  1. In the business classes of my college days (ancient history), we spent a lot of time on Theory X (aggressive, autocratic, etc) managers versus Theory Y (participative, team players, etc.) managers. We did a number of exercises and they all resulted in virtually the same answer. Theory X managers got off to a faster start with more immediate results, but always fell short in the long term. The participative managers always yielded better long-term results. In my working career, I had (the opportunity?) to witness this many times over, and my observations were the same. The aggressive, autocratic and, sometimes, abusive managers got off with quicker results and impressed their managers in the process. Inevitably they failed, however. Where did they fall short? They failed to build the respect and loyalty of their teams. Good players sought opportunities elsewhere and good prospects chose not to join the organization. They failed to capitalize on the creativity and breadth of knowledge existing within their teams. Their decision-making style ultimately also made them a bottleneck, bogging down the organization. And their belief that they were always right — and employees wrong — resulted in bad decisions being implemented. There can be issues with either extreme, but the successful leader would do well to practice an approach consistent with how they would wish to be treated. Rod

    • I agree completely. I think people who have been mistreated think that since it “worked” on them, that it is the appropriate way to lead. What they don’t appreciate is how much better something else would have worked.

      Thanks for your reply, Rod. Hope all is well with you.

  2. Lance Thompson

    for most business situations, a firm consistent approach with clarity of purpose and follow through is what it takes. add in a considerate demeanor during interactions, it make for valuable
    long term employee and client relationships. folks have too many ups and downs in their personal lives, professional interactions at their job is paramount to creating a healthy holistic member of our society. pardon the smartphone lack of capitalization

  3. Jennifer

    I think about my communication to others obsessively. My thoughts as to why an aggressive/abusive leader doesn’t work for long is because the employee is not taught to internalize their work product and they are not empowered. Their motivation in those kinds of relationships are external, so when the motivator isn’t there, productivity goes down and there is no good will extended to this bullying boss to be motivated just because it’s the right thing to do. If a leader treats their employees with respect and works on relationship building with them, while helping them build an internal mechanism of motivation and self-empowerment, well, that just works better every time, in my opinion, over barking orders and watching people jump to.

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