It’s not rare to find in your team a personality that is overly aggressive. These folks can be particularly difficult to manage, as they often encounter a great deal of pushback or push away from fellow team members. However, this aggression is a powerful tool that can help to achieve success for everyone. The trick is knowing how to convert the combative into productive.
It is likely that this person’s pushiness stems from a value system that’s based on winning. We all like to win, but some of us need that extra rush from winning or beating a target. Aggressive energy seems to thrive in goal-based careers such as sales.
This energy is instinctual, it is felt in the gut and is part of our primal nature. It works way better to respect that, rather than try to address it from the head with logic or from the heart with empathy. Engage and challenge. You want to challenge this aggression to get really honest, to go after a deeper truth. To achieve a truly meaningful goal.
The risk of issuing a challenge is if it creates a win-lose scenario. As a leader, you don’t want your most combative people to have to lose somehow in order for the whole to be healthy. That will only make them more combative. Ideally, you want to give them a win, that is also a win for everyone.
So the skill is in issuing the challenge as an invitation. Aggressively presented perhaps, but an invitation nonetheless. A favorite challenge of mine is to confront the person with the perception that she or he is not fully stating what they want. “I don’t believe you’re telling me what you really want, tell me the truth, what is it that you really want here?” The team member will either push back, to which you can say “sorry I see that now…let’s use that energy to go even further”, or, if they do admit to a deeper truth, you can give them the win by acknowledging their honesty. A fight over the other person’s want—inviting them to state more bluntly what really matters to them—is always a battle you can afford for them to win.
The most remarkable leaders I have known were not devoid of aggression. Anything but. They had the skill, however, of using aggression to empower people. You can do that by making sure you have ways to confront people that lead to the other person getting a win, the kind of win that is also a win for everyone. For each of your key people ask yourself: what ways can I challenge them that will lead to a win.
Clear agreements and measurable outcomes are key here. Whenever you issue a challenge, always follow it through all the way to an agreement. Some means to define the new way we are going to do things now, the new level we have got to. Keep creating the opportunity for an attainable future win, and the jolt of empowerment that comes with that!
It’s your responsibility to learn how to issue a challenge skillfully to bring out the best in your team members. To fully embrace this skill, we recommend you download the Challenge Tool (here) as a strong starting point. You’ll also find powerful practices for both you and your team by using our Numina App, or schedule a free executive coaching consultation for more personalized guidance.