Asserting the Standards, Empowering the People

Declaration of victory after the Battle of Leipzig on 18 October 1813, Johann Peter Krafft, 1839

While the compassion variable of tough love allows for the psychological safety of the individual and group, the assertive piece allows your people to grow and reach higher standards.  Note that assertive does not mean aggressive, controlling, authoritarian, etc., and is the antithesis of micromanagement; these behaviors only communicate to people that you do not trust them.  Assertiveness includes modeling the standard and empowering people to make use of responsible freedom (the notion that freedom and personal responsibility go hand-in-hand).

Modeling the Standard

Establish psychological safety with the individual and group by building trust.  Build trust by being competent, vulnerable, straightforward, increasing your integrity and decreasing your hypocrisy, and, most importantly, modeling the behaviors you expect to see in your people.  You cannot hold people to standards that you do not model.  People respond more to the modeling of behaviors than they do to words – actions speak louder than words.   Model compassion and service to others and be sure to do so genuinely – people always know when you are saccharine.  Note that if someone cannot meet standards, or more likely will not if you have done everything you can to set them up for success, then it will be time to let them go.

Empowering People

Challenge your people and empower them by truly believing in them, and you will see them reach new heights of excellence.  Also support them with the tools and resources they need to overcome the challenges; don’t give people a mission and walk away – be there for them.  Be sure not to close up when your trust is seemingly violated; explore the situation openly by leaving your ego in your pocket.  Find the unbiased truth before jumping to conclusions.  Let go of any fears you hold and trust your people and the process.

If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend Robert E. Quinn’s book Building the Bridge as You Walk on It: A Guide for Leading Change. I found it to be incredibly valuable for learning to reflect on my own behaviors, and have used the following helpful hints for utilizing tough love:

The Tough of Tough Love

  • Tough means strong, firm, and having a high, unwavering standard.
  • Know what difficult standards are necessary to create the result.
  • Model complete integrity around the standard.
  • Hold everyone to the same standard that you are modeling.
  • Make no exceptions.
  • Let people go if they cannot live up the standard.
  • No one is more important than the collective good.
  • See the potential in others that they cannot see in themselves.
  • Challenge others to exceed their current capacities.

The Love of Tough Love

  • Love means being genuinely concerned.
  • Be completely supportive of people even as you challenge them to live up to the standard.
  • Spend time with the people you seek to lead.
  • Understand the risks they are facing from their point of view.
  • Analyze their struggles.
  • Experience their most difficult tasks.
  • Know their deepest needs.
  • Show genuine concern for their needs.
  • Make personal sacrifices on their behalf.
  • Express your vulnerability and need for them.
  • Recognize the necessity of failure in learning to create a new result.
  • Spend increased time with the people who are trying to change.
  • Make all topics discussable, including your own behavior.  

Let me know your thoughts! Please comment below!

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