Do you have the right temperament to be a good boss?

You’ve heard the saying: Leaders are made, not born. That is, great managers—whose core asset is leadership—somewhere along the line acquired the necessary skills to effectively supervise people.

In other words, they worked at it.

So with a cocktail of training, experience, practice, observation, diligence, self-help books, soul-searching and an unquenchable desire to climb the career ladder, you too can become a remarkable manager.

On the other hand, maybe it’s not that simple.

Here are the two main reasons many people will struggle and ultimately fail at management despite the hard work they put into it. Not surprisingly, both are rooted in temperament.

Temperament #1: You relish the power. Yes, we’ve all had that boss who thrives on the unfettered ability to control, manipulate and rule. They like to keep the troops frightened. After all, a scared worker is more apt to be an obedient worker. In short, they’re bully bosses.

How do you know when you’ve crossed the tyrant line?

First clue: You truly believe that fear is the greatest motivator. Maybe so if you’re bailing water out of a sinking rowboat. But holding people’s jobs over their heads as a motivation tactic is rarely a good idea.

Second clue: Your employees will avoid you whenever possible. They’ll cut the small talk with you, stop the levity and keep their heads down.

Third clue: When it’s gone too far, you’ll hear about it from upper management. Beaten-down workers will eventually complain.

Temperament #2: You’re overly compassionate. Having the capacity to treat staff with common decency is one thing, but to handle them like a fragile, hand-painted Christmas tree ornament that once belonged to your great-grandmother is another. These are the bosses employees love. Why? Because they can get away with stuff. In unstoppable increments. How can you tell when you’ve crossed the Sleepytime tea line?

First clue: Your workers treat you like you’re one of them. You’re a BFF to all. You’re one big, happy family. You couldn’t bear to have any employee unfriend you at this point.

Second clue: You’ve come to realize that most of the rules were made or modified by the employees themselves; and they even start breaking those.

Third clue: When it’s gone too far, you’ll hear about it from, well, you know who. Somehow you won’t be able to convince the C-suite that the tradeoff of productivity for a roomful of giddy employees is worth it.

What’s the right temperament? 5 techniques to become an assertive manager:

Somewhere between power mongering and feeling sorry for everyone lies the key to assertive management. Assertiveness is the art of being able to enforce your company’s rules and policies in a way that garners respect from your employees. It’s leadership that deals with your people fairly, but firmly. Some of this will require a backbone, the essence of assertiveness.

Managers who can put appropriate rules and policies in place (without being pushy or obnoxious) and see that they are followed create and important edge for themselves and their teams.

Here are some ideas and techniques to help you become an assertive manager:

  1. Start slow, finish strong. Because the impact of discipline should generally escalate rather than decline, it’s important not to make your strongest statement too early. Never ambush an employee with a surprise chew-out session. Keep your tone and content professional, civil, deliberate and fact-based. Give him or her chance to explain. The goal is to put the employee on a constructive path, not the street.
  2. The best approach is to establish a clear pattern of increasing sanctions—such as limiting opportunities, then limiting rewards, then limiting privileges and then limiting flexibility—and to follow it consistently. Just be sure that your punishment fits the crime.
  3. Don’t get personal. Rule enforcement and discipline should have nothing to do with liking or disliking individuals. It works best when administered equally. Try to separate the question of why people violated the rules (and how you feel about that) from the process of enforcing the rules and meting out the consequences. It’s human nature and unavoidable to like some people more than others. But never let this cloud your judgment, or worse, guide your decisions.
  4. Never “let it slide.” During hectic or high-pressure periods, you may want to overlook a small infraction or temporarily bend one of your rules. Be cautious. The real power of your discipline develops slowly as people recognize exactly where—and how firmly—you draw the lines. Bending your own rules (or those of the company’s) can quickly unravel the disciplinary fabric you’ve taken months to weave.
  5. Don’t apologize every time you need to set an employee straight. It telegraphs that you’re uncomfortable fixing problems, and your workers will quickly sniff out your weakness. Save your apologies for when you need to own up to a mistake.