LTExtract 30: Chapter 8 – Assertiveness in Leadership

By Patrick Teague on 31st January 2013 in Stories

The serialisation continues of our Founders book ‘Winning hearts and minds’ right here. Every Tuesday we will publish a section of this fascinating, insightful and interesting read in our blog. This extract continues with Chapter 8 which covers Assertiveness in Leadership.

There is a very important ability that leaders need in order to perform effectively – assertiveness. Clearly stating their vision, expressing their thoughts and feelings, presenting their decisions, questioning and challenging others, establishing their authority, standing up to be counted – so much depends on assertiveness.

Assertiveness in leadership is saying what you truly think and feel in a constructive and positive way. It demands a strong and mature ego and high moral courage to apply it.

The Golden Rules of Assertiveness in Leadership are:

1. Be assertive with yourself all assertiveness starts here.

All the blocks and problems to assertiveness are inside us. The fear of upsetting someone, of disagreeing and getting into arguments, of being hurt, of stepping out of line, of putting our heads above the parapet, of making unpopular decisions, of inviting criticism, of taking risks, all these things and many more are the inner barriers to be faced and broken through.

We must first establish clearly what we want to achieve, and why, when, where and how. Then we can determine what needs to be said and/or done to accomplish it. This may lead to several ‘wobblies’ in our guts, which we need to identify, work through and resolve in turn. We then need to consider where we want to leave the relevant person/people and situation afterwards. We can then decide how best to approach and present ourselves to accomplish this. Remember that the need in leadership is to be definite and clear, to be respected but not necessarily liked.

2. Confront early.

Never let a mole-hill grow into a mountain; identify the ‘black spot’ of hurt or resentment inside you. This can so easily become the detonator for a mega-explosion. Black spots are quickly coated with anger, nature’s energy that gives us the power to ‘do something about it’. The longer the black spot is allowed to fester, the greater grows the explosive fireball of anger around it.

Occasionally the anger may be discharged onto substitute targets without the black spot being touched. This only builds up greater residual anger, which in turn only serves to swell the black spot. If this is allowed to continue, it can soon become a walking time-bomb, ready to go off at the slightest provocation. Like Mount Vesuvius erupting, it may one day blow its top and destroy everything in its path.  The need, therefore, is to get the black spot and its coating of anger out onto the table in front of us. Once there, it can be seen, understood and accepted both at the intellectual and emotional levels. It must never be thrust down someone else’s throat - this can only do greater damage.

Once out on the table in front of us, we can then disperse the anger around it. Once this anger has dissipated, we can get to the centre of the black spot and identify the cause of it, for it is only when we know the true cause that we can solve it.

3. If we want something, we need to ask for it.

It is little good expecting other people to divine our particular needs. Being dissatisfied, uninformed or whatever, we cannot demand that other people second-guess our problems and grant our needs. We need to state them clearly.

4. If you do not want something, learn to say ‘no’.

No is one of the shortest words in the dictionary yet for many people it is the hardest word to utter. Practice doing this with a trusted friend and then identify what the block is within you that gives you such difficulty. Learn to work through the block.

5. Make people aware of how they are affecting your feelings without being accusatory or aggressive.

The object is to alert them to the emotional problem(s) inside you that they are unwittingly or wittingly causing you. This is not to judge and/or condemn them for causing you problems in advance!  A useful phrase to start with is ‘When you say or do that….[whatever ‘that’ might be] it makes me feel this …’ [whatever ‘this’ might be].

6. Learn to disagree in an acceptable manner.

Listen closely to what is being said and accept (not necessarily agree with it) where people are coming from. Question them so you understand their viewpoint fully. It is important not to just ‘go through the motion of acceptance’, waiting for an opportunity to say ‘Ah, yes but…’ before launching off onto your own viewpoint. The more you understand where they are coming from, the more solid is your ground for agreeing or disagreeing.      If you disagree then useful starting phases are: ‘Thank you for explaining your opinion/viewpoint. Now I understand it clearly. However, I do no agree/am not in the same place/ I have a different view’.

The opposing viewpoints can then be discussed to see if there is any common meeting ground. A great sign of maturity is to be able to accept different and conflicting views as well as the relative merits and demerits of each other. If, at the end, there is no agreement, then both parties can ‘agree to disagree’, which can and sometimes does lead to a better solution.  Accepting that one does not have to agree with everyone’s viewpoints releases much of the tension in relationships; taking out the ‘win/lose’ competitiveness. If, however, it is vital that agreement of some sort is reaches, then one has to work at reaching a ‘positive compromise’ to obtain the best solution for everybody.

7. What matters most is how we present our assertiveness.

The more confident and relaxed we are, the stronger we come across.  Sensing ‘where’ the other person is and then choosing the right time, setting and means of communication (face-to-face, letter, telephone, e-mail) as well as the right words give us the best chance of gaining the most positive results.

Assertiveness needs constant practice. To get oneself into the right frame of mind, requires the courage to face one’s own inner fears and then to work through them. It is only then that we can ‘allow’ the emotional ‘fall-out’ from the other person(s) and learn how best to handle it.

Self-respect on both sides, not just saving face, is where it all needs to end.

Let us keep the ‘Golden Rules of Assertiveness’ in the forefront of our minds whenever we are dealing with leadership situations.

First                 -           be assertive to yourself

Second            –          confront early

Third               –          if you want something, ask

Fourth             –         if you do not want something, say ‘no.’

Fifth                –          make people aware of how they are affecting your feelings without

being accusatory or aggressive

Sixth                –          learn how to disagree in an acceptable manner

Seventh           –          remember the importance of ‘how’ we are assertive.

The highest level of assertiveness is being able to say what you truly think and feel in a positive and constructive way.

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