How can I moderate my approach and still be seen as influential and assertive?
Assertive is maybe not the best thing to focus on for you right now. While it is a good quality in certain contexts, based on your manager's feedback it seems you've crossed the line into being over-assertive. For you, the focus should be on humility rather than assertiveness, and probably a less pro-active style of leading.
This is a skill I learned from my grandfather. In his day, he did very well on a management level in his job, and he has always been a quiet yet very present voice of reason in our family, much like how he was in his job.
He didn't proactively lead anyone, but he mentored and socratically reasoned with you, which in turn made us inclined to look at him as a leader.
When we visited, my grandmother would be the chatterbox. She'd be verbose, quick to discuss things and ask, but also prone to misunderstanding or overstating. My grandfather, on the other hand would generally not really speak much, watching TV with one eye and paying attention to the conversation with the other. But he would chime in whenever he felt that someone made a mistake or needed help with something they didn't know or were unsure of.
He would socratically ask one or two questions for clarification, and almost always the answers to those questions would help you put two and two together yourself. If not, he'd put two and two together for you, always explaining how he got to that conclusion.
Since I've started my work life, I have noticed that good managers and leads tend to display this same quality. They hold a lot of knowledge and skill, but they don't proactively override others. They don't direct people so much as let them direct themselves with (initially) minimal guidance (relative to how much guidance the person needs), but keep an eye out to make sure that it's going well.
If not, or the team member indicates uncertainty, they'd help out just enough until the team member felt confident enough to continue by themselves.
The key phrase here is empowerment, as opposed to overriding.
I was given feedback by my manager that I should take into account the context of some of my feedback and the influence I may be peer pressure effect I may be having on my team
If you have more answers than anyone else, it's very easy to start giving these answers instead of working with others to find them together. This runs a few risks:
- You may be blind to improvements, and your lead position makes it so people can't really override you (hence the "peer pressure effect" you mention)
- You cause others to not be able to think for themselves anymore, which can make them lose passion for their job. Developers are inherently problem solvers, and if you always give them the solution, they'll lose interest in tackling problems.
- It sets a know-it-all reputation that is going to have a negative impact on a social level.
There's nothing wrong with knowing a lot of information, but being a proactive know-it-all will generally be received negatively.
Don't underestimate how much your public perception in the workplace can influence your perceived value as an employee. Whether you have all the answers or not, if people plain don't like you, you're at a disadvantage.
Some general tips:
- Do not take credit for things you helped solve. A person in a leading role who takes credit will very quickly be perceived negatively and will be avoided so as not to steal the person's credit from their own hard work. Try to be the unsung hero, because those you helped will then willingly credit you, which has a positive effect on your reputation.
- Never use your lead position as a justification for why you're right. At best, explain that because two options are equally viable, you chose to take A instead of B. If something is better, no matter who came up with it, it's better.
- Read up on the Socratic method. It's the core of how you can give someone information without making it feel like you're outright telling them what to do/think.
- Don't overdo the socratic method either. If you're less than subtle about how you introduce knowledge, people will see your attempt as a veiled way to override them anyway.
- Try not to inject your knowledge unless you have a concrete reason to, e.g.
- Someone asks for help
- Someone seems to be stuck on a specific item
- Only really inject yourself for important things, e.g. when a short-term mistake can cause serious damage or have long-term ramifications.
- Instead of injecting yourself, take a backseat, but remain observant for cases that require your attention. Usually, unless someone asks for help or is not keeping up with status meetings, you usually don't need to take action.
- Ask if you can help and how, instead of telling them they need help.
- Ask if someone considered approach Y instead of X, rather than telling them they "should use Y".
- Try to focus on being available to answer questions, as opposed to fixing mistakes. The latter tends to put people on the defensive, as they don't want to be perceived as making mistakes in front of their lead.
- Never judge a person by the mistakes they've made. Openly admit having made similar (or worse) mistakes. Try not to point out to someone what mistakes others (i.e. third parties) make, unless you know the third person is open to admitting fault themselves and can laugh about it.
- In that same vein, try to make light of mistakes with a "it can happen to anyone" subtext, because it will make people more eager to work with their team and you, as opposed to trying to hide things they don't know or did wrong.
Of course, I can't know specifically which of these apply to you and which don't. These are just general tips on how to lead without causing friction with the people you're leading.