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The Importance of Assertive Leadership

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 19 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Assertiveness Learn Skills Leadership

In order for a leader to state his personal and group needs in an effective manner, he or she needs to be able to be assertive when required. Assertiveness is an important part of effective communication – it enables others to not only be clear about what you want and where they stand but also gives them an opportunity to modify their behaviour or respond with their own needs and ideas.

A good leader will know how to use assertiveness to gain respect and authority, without alienating any members of the group or anyone outside the group. Like many leadership skills, assertiveness is something that can be learned and maintained with regular practice.

Assertive Vs Aggressive?

People often confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness when in fact, the two are completely different. Assertiveness is not about being loud, rude, arrogant or disrespectful of others – rather, it is a direct, honest expression of your own feelings and needs. Unlike aggressiveness, it does not involve hurting another person, whether physically or emotionally, or violating their rights.

When you are assertive, you are aiming to equalise the balance of power, as opposed to just “winning the fight”, possibly through negative ways such as humiliating or hurting another person,. Leaders who practise assertiveness correctly are more interested in negotiation a new solution with the other individual, than in just “I win / you lose”.

By being assertive in the right way, leaders can express their legitimate needs, wants, ideas and feelings – and in this way, create honest relationships with others while at the same time also enabling others to respond with their own needs, wants, ideas and feelings.

Assertiveness In Leadership

Assertiveness is very important in leadership – it is one of the key leadership skills for achieving success in leading a group of people. Leaders who are not assertive enough fail to stand up for themselves or their groups or organisations and thus allow themselves (or their group or organisation) to be taken advantage of.

There are many benefits to being assertive in the right way – by standing up for yourself and your group and communicating your needs, you will gain respect for yourself and your group, because people respect those who can honestly express their feelings and needs in a non-confrontational manner.

Being assertive can help relationships to become more authentic, as you will be able to share your honest reactions with others and encourage them to do the same with you. In addition, expressing your feelings about other people’s behaviour gives them an accurate indicator of where they stand and enables them to modify their behaviour.

In fact, although many people fear being assertive because they worry about the potential for conflict, not being assertive can also damage relationships because you end up sacrificing your integrity and denying honest, personal feelings – which can lead to resentment and damaged relationships.

Assertive Behaviour

Assertiveness is not only about what you say but how you say it. There are many forms of assertive behaviour – the basic form is simply to stand up for your beliefs, opinions or feelings. However, you can also be assertive in an empathic way, so that you express your feelings and beliefs but relate them sensitively to another individual.

Alternatively, you can display escalating assertive behaviour where you start with just some basic assertions but then increase the intensity of your feelings and ideas if the other person remains unresponsive to your expressions. Finally, there is confrontational assertive behaviour when the other party’s ideas and beliefs are directly in conflict with yours.

Different types of assertive behaviour will suit different people and different individuals. However, there are some general guidelines which hold good for all instances – for example, don’t be afraid to set limits and be firm in holding to them; don’t back down at the first instance of pressure from others. Similarly, don’t be afraid to say “No” – don’t fall into the guilt trap – be honest with others if you are unable or unwilling to take on a responsibility, follow through with a project or agree with an opinion.

Finally, if you are having trouble showing assertive behaviour, trying “rewriting the whole scene” – in other words, picture a time when you weren’t assertive enough and go through it again, imagining what you would have or should have said instead and what the idea assertive response would be. These mental role-plays will help you be more assertive in similar situation in the future.

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