Culture Bites 011 - Myth Busters: If I’m not Aggressive then I have to be Passive

Published on 03 Jul 2018
Myth Busters

People often think it’s either Aggressive or Passive. In this episode of the podcast, we talk about how there is another way: Constructive. This episode is hosted by Liana Sangster and Dominic Gourley.

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Microphone Key Takeaways and Ideas

Absolutist Thinking
“If we don’t follow the rules then there will be complete anarchy.” “If we don’t have cut throat competition then everyone will be soft and do nothing”. This is the kind of thing people say when they are learning things about themselves which are different from the way they thought before - it challenges their old assumptions.


There are 8 ways to be Defensive and only 4 to Be Constructive
Many organisations are leading defensively which means we are not necessarily exposed to an example of Constructive leadership. Defensive styles are also easier to see and caricature – we put out Christmas Cards each year which do this: 2017 / 2016 – but examples of constructive behaviours are more subtle and harder to recognise.  


The Pay-Off and the Trade-Off of Defensive Styles
People use Defensive thinking and behaviours for a reason – they get something out of defensive behaviour – otherwise they wouldn’t do it. No one gets out of bed thinking about how they are really look forward to being a pain in the butt today.

The Circumplex Isn’t about Good/Bad or Right/Wrong
Ideal Circ TransparentPeople in the market sometimes attach ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to the Circumplex. Red and Green = Bad; Blue = Good. It’s misleading because it’s not about good or bad - that is not what the circumplex is saying. What we can say is that greater effectiveness and long-term sustainability comes from Constructive behaviour patterns and that defensive styles will slow you down. It’s not a judgement about the person. 


“But we have to be Conventional”
“What’s wrong with rules? In this industry we need rules otherwise it would be a disaster”. Conventional is a style which tends to get challenged in business because leaders say they need people to follow instructions and do what they are told. Some degree of that isn’t a problem – the issue comes as you get higher and higher on the conventional style and do things like ‘follow the rule even when it doesn’t make sense’. The solution isn’t throwing out all of the rules, the idea is the introduce and remind people about the goal and what are the things we do in service of: Who is our customer? What is our objective? Is it still working for us? How can we be agile to the changing needs of customers? (Achievement)


“But we want people to do things Perfectly”
The other one that often gets challenged is Perfectionistic: “I do want people delivering perfect results – if we get this chemical formula wrong then it could end up with catastrophic results.” The truth about the Perfectionistic style is not that people ARE perfect – it’s that they feel they need to APPEAR perfect. The trouble is: when something goes wrong high perfectionists will cover it up because they don’t want anyone to know they made a mistake. By covering up mistakes we don’t learn from them and actually it creates a more dangerous environment – not a safer one.


Constructive Isn’t ‘Nice’
Sometimes people who are high in Aggressive Style can view Constructive as ‘nice’ – but ‘nice’ is Passive in the Circumplex. Constructive is tough: it’s about challenging yourself with high performance standards, it’s about giving and receiving respectfully straight feedback, it’s about disagreeing constructively.


Vulnerable Leadership
Sometimes the term ‘Vulnerable Leadership’ can come across as very passive and self-doubting. In reality it’s about being ‘real’ and being able to have a frank assessment of yourself which is actually a hard thing to do. We find that Instead of telling leaders to be more vulnerable it can be better to repackage it as an outcome of having a good relationship. What people are looking for is the antithesis of the faultless tough exterior from some leaders. What you can do is encourage leaders to share the odd example of when they’ve made a mistake – it makes them human.

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Previous Episodes:
001: Kick Starting a Passive Team
002: Dealing with Delegation
003: Telling Someone They have a Blind Spot
004: What's Wrong with Being Competitive?
005: I have a Competitive Teammate – Help!
006: What is a Toxic Culture?
007: How Leaders Impact Culture
008: Is Culture / Climate / Engagement the same thing?
009: My Manager is Resisting Culture Change
010: How the Banks got here

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