What An Unemployed Army Officer and Doctor Taught Me About Dominance
I hate to admit I need any medications, but when I do, I know one thing—take the right dose!
The dominance trait in leaders, as with most behaviors, is the same way. We don’t want a passive, tentative person leading our organization. We also don’t want an overwhelming tornado in charge.
For our discussion, dominance is defined as the need to be in charge. Highly dominant people are most comfortable being in charge and are uncomfortable when not in charge. This need to be the person calling the shots has some very positive aspects. When the chips are down and a chaotic situation arises, we need a leader to step up and take charge...to stand up and be heard without excessive discussion about the way ahead. I want to see leaders feel comfortable being in charge. In fact, our analysis of high performers put the Flippen Profile target range for dominance quite high (between 8 and 9 on a 0 to 10 scale). Like all strengths, however, dominance can be overplayed—it can turn into a constraint that holds us and our teams back.
A friend of mine is on the job hunt. An outstanding doctor and leader, Mark is a retired Army officer with over thirty years’ experience. Mark is passionate and full of life, he lights the room up and his presence is overwhelming. He embodies dominance. And his dominance has become a constraint that is limiting his ability to find a job.
Six months ago, Mark asked me to help him prepare for an interview. The CEO position in a major hospital was available; I knew Mark was the perfect man for the job. He had previously interviewed for two other positions but was not hired for either one. He told me that after one interview, he was not even asked to participate in the group moving forward in the interview process.
So I began by asking him about the interviews. After about thirty minutes, Mark paused for a breath. I jumped in and asked him to remain quiet for 15 seconds. He couldn’t do it—he had to talk! He was consumed with the NEED to dominate the conversation. I asked him how he thought that made the interviewer FEEL. I explained that at The Flippen Group, we teach that leadership is all about using our behaviors to influence outcomes…and that those outcomes can be positive or negative. I then asked if his behavior during the interview could have affected the negative outcome. After a 5-second pause (amazingly difficult for him to do!), he acknowledged his behavior was the reason he didn’t get selected. His wife, who was on the speakerphone listening in, chimed in with a quick “I told you so!”
He explained to me that he thought others were too slow to respond; he just took over the interviews when he perceived a lack of energy and a general conversational laziness. He saw a need to “take charge.” In the Army, his “take charge” mentality was often seen as a strong attribute. He was continually lauded and promoted for it. But he couldn’t turn it off (or at least turn it down), and now it was holding him back. He was reluctant to see himself as others saw him…overpowering! But when he used this feedback and became more self-aware, he was extremely grateful. He doesn’t need to lose himself, just modify his behavior.
Mark hasn’t found that perfect job yet, but he is practicing being less dominant and is searching for that sweet spot or target range as he makes the transition from the Army to the civilian world. He is a great person, leader, doctor, father and husband. He cares deeply for those around him and has a true passion to make a difference in the world and have a positive impact on others. Yet, his overly dominant behaviors were not only holding him back, they were limiting his ability to impact others. I wish him all the best—I’ll bet he makes it!