Leaders often can’t tell when they’re pushing people too hard versus not challenging them sufficiently.   Research conducted at Columbia University by Daniel Ames and Frank Flynn suggests a leader’s approach to assertiveness is a key element in success,  as well how the leader is perceived –  see this pdf.

Tommy Lasorda worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers for almost 50 years, including a 20-year stint as the team’s manager.  The first day he took charge of the team, Tommy said to the press: “I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.”

Being just assertive enough is not easy for any leader but it is one of the most important features of a good one.  But it isn’t simply a matter of arriving at some correct calibration and then sticking with it.  Rather, the best leaders and managers recalibrate frequently.  They get the balance right on any given day and in the myriad of interactions with their followers, peers and their own bosses.

The research by Ames and Flynn found that highly regarded managers are moderately assertive all the time. They modulate between pushing people hard enough at certain times and back off appropriately at other times.  They are flexible and socially sensitive — knowing when it’s the right time for either approach.  This enables them to be seen as motivating and engaged and they are seen not as bullying or micro-managing!