Leaders: Are You a Tyrant or a Pushover?

leadership styleBankable Leaders connect with their teams as human beings and drive them to top performance. It is a rare leader who can do both naturally, without careful thought and development.

In my work coaching executives, I often meet people who say things like, “I don’t want to hear people’s whining—I just want them to do their jobs.” Less frequently, but still often, I hear, “I just want them to be happy! I don’t want my team to think I’m a tyrant.” To figure out how to find balance, we’ll have to examine the spectrum of performance driven and human driven leaders.

On the left is The Pushover. This leader is overly focused on the happiness of her staff, so rather than being direct and up front, she’ll tell her team what she thinks they want to hear. Mediocrity is the trademark of The Pushover. Michael Scott from The Office is a great example. As is clear from his “World’s Best Boss” coffee mug, he’s so interested in being liked that he doesn’t push his team to greatness.

On the right is The Tyrant, who is focused on performance at all costs. This type of leader can often create results; however, research tells us that they aren’t sustainable and will come at a cost. For example, if you forced your team members to work twelve hours a day, they might get a lot done . . . at first. But after six months, they would leave the company, get sick, or at the very least start to resent you.

The movie Office Space is a prime example of what happens when managers focus on the bottom line above all else. In that case, the protagonists start embezzling money from the company, and the downtrodden Milton burns the building down. Most of the time, the resentment is more subtle, but you get the idea.

Think about how it would feel to work for each type of leader. Both might be fine for a while, but for different reasons. The Pushover would be fun to talk to and would probably show you she cared about you as a person. But when the time came for a tough conversation, she’d start acting strangely. Instead of giving you feedback, she may beat around the bush and leave you confused about what to do differently. In times of change, you might notice that she’s telling different people different things, and chaos would ensue by virtue of the sheer confusion.

The Tyrant might help you bring your “A game” for a few months, and the feeling of accomplishment might be rewarding. But over time, you’ll wonder whether he values you as a person or even appreciates your work. You’ll start to feel resentful that you’re not being recognized, and you may be tempted to even the score by not going the extra mile. When another job opens up, you’ll pursue it, longing for a boss who cares about you.

As I mentioned earlier, you probably lean more toward one pole than the other, but you need to do both to do either one well. For instance, to get great results, you have to connect with your team on a human level. A Development Dimensions International study found that more than two-thirds of employees report putting in more effort when their manager supports and listens to them.* And to connect with your team, you have to give them something to be a part of that’s worth their best efforts.

Even though the behaviors of The Pushover and The Tyrant might feel mutually exclusive, they are simply different sides of the same coin. You can broaden your repertoire to become a results-focused leader who also connects with her staff and helps them connect with each other. (If you’ve ever worked for a boss like this, you probably excelled at your work and felt extremely satisfied in your job.) You’ll find plenty of practical tips on how in part I of my book, Bankable Leadership.


Tasha EurichDr. Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist, speaker and The New York Times bestselling author of Bankable Leadership. Her life’s work is to help organizations succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders and teams. With a ten-year track record in the Fortune 500 world, her expertise has been featured in outlets like The New York Times, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and Forbes.

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