10 Keys to Leadership Assertiveness (Part 1)

If assertiveness can prevent and mitigate many common workplace conflicts, why do so many leaders continue to be either too passive or too aggressive?

Put simply: being assertive is difficult. People are emotionally-driven beings and leaders who don't know how to manage their own assertiveness effectively come off either as aggressive results-focused critics or passive relationship-focused enablers. Assertiveness requires that you show care and support for your team members and expect high performance.

Assertiveness done "right" can foster confidence, inspire teamwork, and bring out the best in everyone. Since proper assertiveness isn't a lesson we're taught, here are 5 keys to remember about being assertive with others, and 5 more will be provided in the next blog.

1. Start early.

It's important to start being assertive at the beginning of every relationship. This sets the tone for the relationship and helps both parties know what to expect. If you're a leader who tends to assume an introverted and submissive role in relationships, remember to stand your ground (speak up for the results you want) in every new relationship. This will ensure that you don't get taken advantage of, and it'll also set boundaries for the relationships and results you expect.

Relationship before content.

2. Pick your battles.

To decide whether assertiveness is required, think about the long term implications of the situation at hand. Is it something that will still matter tomorrow? Is it part of a systemic issue that can impact your team or organization? Getting in the habit of asking such questions will make you better at choosing your battles.

3. Listen first.

Before you go sharing your strongest opinions, listen to other people's thoughts and ideas first. This is a basic principle of conflict mitigation, but many leaders forget to listen when they're under stress and pressure. However, listening to others can give an important perspective to the situation at hand.

Seek first to understand than to be understood.
— Stephen Covey

4. Practice.

Assertiveness is an important skill for leaders to have that can be honed and mastered over time. To make sure you act with the appropriate level of assertiveness during certain situations, it's important to prepare. A great way to practice is to role play with a trusted peer. They can help come up with uncomfortable responses and questions, which will make you more comfortable in real situations.

Yes! I’m talking about practice.

5. Be solution-oriented.

Many leaders fail at assertiveness because they don't have an end goal in mind. Assertiveness should be a means of providing a positive learning experience. But focusing too much on problems makes it difficult to see the end goal. Before you approach a team member or peer with an assertive or direct statement, think of positive ideas that will help get to the end goal. This will help them understand that you're trying to be helpful, not hurtful.

Where did we get the idea that making someone feel bad will help them do better?

How do you assert yourself as a leader? Please add to the conversation—comment below or on Twitter at @gregbellspeaks.

Be sure to read the next blog which will offer 5 more Keys to Leadership Assertiveness.