The Link between Assertiveness and the Effective Leader

Assertiveness training has been growing in popularity over the last few decades. Assertiveness training began primarily as a program used by counselors and psychologist, and has transition into a very popular management training course. Many employers are starting assertiveness training programs for their managers as they feel these skills make them more effective leaders. Assertive individuals are self confident, have strong communication and problem solving skills, and not afraid of confrontation. Effective Leaders are assertive individuals.

To learn why effective leaders are assertive individuals we need to understand what assertiveness means. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2006) defines assertiveness is as, “The quality or state of being assertive” (p.62). Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary goes on to define assertive as, “disposed or characterized by strong or confident assertion” (p.62). To clarify the meaning Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines assertion as, “A positive statement” (p.62). In other words assertive individuals have the ability to state clearly what they want or how they feel in any situation without coming across as aggressive or hostile.
Assertiveness is a widely recognized leadership trait. Assertive individuals are self-confident and clear about what they want. Leaders with these traits communicate openly and honestly with those around them. Assertive leaders project confidence and encourage feedback when expressing their thoughts. Assertiveness is built on the understanding that each individual has the right to be open and express themselves honestly; even if they chose not too.
Assertiveness helps leaders perform many tasks and achieve goals. Assertive leaders are able to comfortably confront subordinates about poor performance, set high goals, and even make demands on higher management when necessary for the group to meet its objectives. Assertive leaders recognize their own level of knowledge, ability, and authority in any situation. They are able to send this message of confidence and competence through their personal demeanor while showing respect for their group. Without this ability the communication would breakdown and the relationship between the leader and his team would quickly begin to deteriorate.

Shaw and Rutledge (1976) wrote an article in the September 1976 Training and Development Journal citing an exciting new approach to train effective managers. Shaw and Rutledge went on to show the correlation between the traits of an assertive individual and an effective manager:
The effective manager is clear about goals and purposes. He or she is willing and able to confront conflict, and to make tough decisions, to say “no” without guilt, embarrassment or shilly-shally. The effective manager is also capable of responding to and utilizing the resources of others. He or she is sufficiently confident and self-possessed so that defensive and abrasive behavior which inhibits the enthusiasm, creativity and motivation of others is minimized. (p.9)
According to Shaw and Rutledge (1976) assertive training would gain in popularity among the business world since it would help produce the type of leadership they needed for productive organizations. One of the key characteristics of assertiveness training Shaw and Rutledge pointed out was the fact that leaders where not forced to learn new behaviors just build and strengthen the skills they already possessed.

Shaw and Rutledge (1976) stated that, “Assertive training focuses on practicing goal-oriented and self-actualization behavior, and on learning how to identify and protect oneself against aggressive or manipulative behavior from others.” (p.8) This is a very important skill for a leader. Leaders must be able to clearly and effective communicate their needs without being manipulated by those around them. For the organization to thrive all resources must be used both efficiently and effectively. This means that leadership must be able to determine the best possible use for its resources at all times.

Shaw and Rutledge (1976) stated Assertive leaders believe in themselves and in their own ability to succeed; in other words they trust them selves. Assertive leaders will take the time to determine what they want and how they will do it. Next Shaw and Rutledge explained the assertive leader must utilize the resources of others. To be effective a leader they must possess the ability to not only listen to one self but also those around them and then utilize that information in an effective manner.

The third step Shaw and Rutledge (1976) explained the assertive leader must follow was to express your feelings. The assertive leader must express their feelings and at the same time provide a safe environment for others to express their feelings openly and honestly without fear of retaliation. Effective leaders teach these skills by example. Shaw and Rutledge described the forth step as be clear and goal oriented. Assertive leaders are open and direct; they are clear about their goals and intents.

The final step according to Shaw and Rutledge (1976) in assertiveness training is to confront issues. Assertive leadership will also take care of issues immediately when they happen and keeps communication flowing. Learning how to be assertive will not prevent confrontations it simply provides managers with the skills to deal with the confrontations. Effective leaders realize that assertiveness is a skill that needs to be practiced and continually evaluated for each individual situation. There is no behavior that is a one size fits all perfect solution and a truly effective leader remembers this above all.

An assertive individual has strong listening skills which are important for an effective leader. It is as important for leaders to listen as it is for them to be heard. An assertive individual will take the time to clue into the verbal cues as well as the non verbal cues of the conversations. This can often help the listener determine the central issue. The assertive individual will work on all areas of communication so that effective leadership can be maintained.

The assertive leader has built a relationship with the team that encourages open and honest communication and fosters creativity. This is where synergy comes into play. Utilizing all the skills in the workplace they are able to get their team to perform at levels higher than the competition. The assertive leader will promote this productive environment. An effective Leader is an assertive individual.