Do you remember the fable about the mice and the killer cat? The mice brainstormed together and came up with a great idea to put a bell on the cat--but their plan fell apart when it came time to find a volunteer to do the job.

Is it possible your employees wish they could put a bell on you to warn them when you're coming?

As an entrepreneur, being assertive and determined are part of the job. You have to set goals and keep things moving in order to stay ahead of the game. And you have to be decisive: The buck stops with you. If you get a little edgy at times, well, it's only because you're the one who has the stress of seeing the whole picture and being responsible for every part of it. Right?

On the other hand, you might be an overbearing boss--one who creates a work environment that is filled with tension and fear. If your employees are not comfortable speaking with you, you may be missing important information--and great ideas. You could even lose good workers who decide to go elsewhere.

Your employees who are at less assertive will continue to be polite to you, no matter how much inner turmoil you are causing them. They won't tell you if you are stressful. Who wants to volunteer for that job?

So here are a few questions I've devised to help you determine if you are an overbearing boss:

  1. Do you easily become impatient with people who don't appear to feel the same sense of urgency you do?
  2. Do you consider yourself a competitive person? Do other people find you competitive?
  3. Have friends or family ever told you that you are being unrelenting or too driving?
  4. Do you have an open-door policy, or do employees freely email you with their questions and ideas?
  5. Do you receive a lot of feedback?
  6. How often do you get into arguments?
  7. Do you typically offer your opinion, whether it is solicited or not?
  8. How often do you let other people give you directions or tell you what to do?
  9. Do you ever deliberately provoke mild-mannered people because you think a little confrontation would be good for them?
  10. When you drive, do you consider a traffic jam to be war? Do you shift lanes, cut off other drivers, and prematurely exit the highway in attempts to find a quicker route?
  11. Do you think being called a "Type A" personality is a compliment?

I'm sure you already know what the results mean.

Assertive bosses have many virtues. They tend to be direct, decisive, and task-oriented. They will step up to get things done, and they don't mind handling uncertain situations. Being in charge comes naturally to them, and they can be fearless leaders. If they have a dose of expressiveness, they will be outspoken and vocal about their expectations.

For people who are less assertive, however, take-charge bosses may be anything from annoying to downright terrifying. The overbearing boss can be dictatorial, confrontational, rude, domineering, and unreceptive. Some are determined to get their way at all costs--and the costs may be very high. If the boss is argumentative, employees who do not like conflict will simply keep their mouths shut.

If you are a forceful boss, don't be afraid to try new behaviors from the other end of the assertiveness spectrum, so you can foster a stronger relationship with and engage those who are like that too. The opposite of overbearing is not wishy-washy. The opposite of overbearing is respectful. People who are reserved can be just as resolute as you are, but they are quietly determined. Understand that conflict is not their way to address the things they care about.

If you're an overbearing boss, take some pointers from the mild-mannered, peacekeeping boss.


  • Stay calm
  • Keep your voice even-toned, and don't interrupt.
  • Listen and reflect before you set an opinion in stone.
  • When you ask a direct question, give your employees time to formulate their answers.

Overbearing bosses can be like a hurricane entering the room. Whatever plans the employee had for the day go out the window as the boss spins off new tasks and reasserts priorities. This can create resentment and confusion. Honor the diligence of your employees by asking if they have a moment to speak with you, rather than summoning them in the middle of what they are doing.

People enjoy working for a boss who is grateful and appreciative. Continue to set high expectations for others, but use encouragement instead of intimidation. Ask for opinions. Give your employees a way to provide you with feedback. Acknowledge successful ideas that came from others. Praise the different strengths your employees bring to the workplace. Remember that with peaceful interaction, they will relax and share important information and ideas with you.

Nonviolence has created some of the greatest changes in the world. This might be a good time for you to purchase a picture of Mahatma Gandhi for your office. Or buy a bell, just as a reminder.