How can you strike the perfect balance between being a strong leader and, well … kind of a jerk?
Business Insider spoke with former nuclear submarine commander David Marquet to find out.
Marquet, who spent nearly three decades of service in the US Submarine Force, is the author of “Turn The Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders.”
In 1999, he assumed command of the USS Santa Fe, which ranked dead last in retention and operational standing. Under Marquet’s leadership, the ship eventually became the highest-ranked ship in the Navy.
Marquet says that walking the line between being assertive and domineering is all about timing.
“Being an authoritative leader is necessary in certain situations,” he told Business Insider. “However, if you go around telling people what to do all the time, then you will come across as a jerk. The key is only to tell people what to do as an exception.“
Under normal circumstances, Marquet says that capable leaders must create a work environment where employees take initiative themselves. Then, when a situation arises that requires their attention, they can take more forceful action.
Marquet also recommends that leaders always use direct communication with their subordinates. Vague language can cause bosses to come across as either wishy-washy or passive aggressive.
“I’ve seen people trying to avoid telling people to do things with an artifice of language,” he says. “For example, they will say ‘Let’s get this report submitted’ but there’s no ‘us’ in the work. They really mean, ‘I need you to get this report done.’ If you really need to give an order, give it clearly, succinctly, unambiguously. If you have time, explain why. If not, then explain why later.”