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The Champion Forum Podcast

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TCF030: Assertive Leadership

Your leadership style sets the tone for your team and the results that you will yield. The most effective leaders use assertiveness to motivate and manage their team. Assertive leaders use their self-confidence to gain the respect of others and ensure that tasks are done efficiently and on-time. Assertiveness adds power and conviction to a message and enables a leader’s voice to be heard.

In this episode, Jeff will give you several techniques you can use to build the confidence and self-belief that you need to become assertive. When you start using these strategies, you will also become more productive, efficient, and respected.

Types of Leaders

Passive: People who avoid conflict, get taken advantage of, and apologize often. You might be a passive leader if your team is always late to meetings, deadlines are missed, or you are being publicly disrespected.

Aggressive: People who feel are quick to criticize others and be dismissive of others' opinions. Aggressive leaders sometimes act like this because they don’t want to be seen as weak, they are falling in line with an aggressive leadership culture in their company, or they are naturally prone to outbursts of anger. Aggressive leaders see hurting other people as a by-product of successful communication and aren’t afraid to attack others if it will help them get their way. They lead through by inspiring fear instead of confidence.

Passive-Aggressive: People who want to avoid confrontation and do so by being manipulative so that they can highlight their power. Leaders who are passive-aggressive are often insecure, so they avoid interacting with their people and place a wall between themselves and their subordinates.

Assertive: People who communicate their feelings and opinions truthfully and seek ways to create solutions that are win-win. Assertive leaders respect others and expected to be respected. They value a fair exchange of ideas and are firm without being hurtful or dismissive of their team members.

Q: What kind of leadership do you think you naturally gravitate toward? Go through each of these types. In your experience, what is it like working with each of these types of leaders? What other behaviors characterize these types of leaders?

Steps to being a more assertive leader

1. Voice Your Needs and Wants Confidently

  • Do not wait for other people to recognize your needs.

  • Clarify what you need in your mind and determine what steps you or others will need to take to see that need met.

  • Once you've done this, you can tell your people exactly what it is that you need.

Q: How have you seen people respond to a confident leader? What is the difference between a confident leader and a cocky leader? How can a leader help people see them as confident instead of cocky? How can a leader help people see them as confident instead of doubtful?

2. Acknowledge That You Can't Control Other People's Behavior

  • Passive leaders overthink what the other person might say or how they might react.

  • Don't make the mistake of accepting responsibility for how people react to your assertiveness.

  • Remember that you can only control yourself and your own behavior, so do your best to stay calm if things get tense.

  • If you believe in what you are doing and saying, then it is your obligation to deliver the message to your team, regardless of how they react.

Q: Why do you think it is so important for a leader to realize that they cannot control other people? How do you think understanding this will help build your confidence and empower you to be assertive?

3. Learn to say NO

  • Saying "no” is hard to do, especially when you're not used to doing it.

  • Know your own limits so that you can manage your tasks more effectively.

  • Remember that you can't possibly do everything or please everyone.

  • By trying to please everyone and being a YES leader all of the time will earn you a reputation of being indecisive and a pushover.

Q: Why do people find it hard to say no? How can you say “no” without looking lazy?

4. Use Assertive Communication Techniques

  • Use "I" Statements

    • Use the words "I want," "I need," or "I feel," to communicate your expectations and get your point across firmly.

    • For example: "I feel strongly that we need to bring in a third party to mediate this disagreement."


  • Empathy

    • Make an effort to recognize and understand how the other person views the situation before you make your own point.

    • For example: "I understand that you're having trouble working with Janelle, but this project needs to be completed by Friday. Let's all sit down and come up with a plan together."


  • Escalation

    • If your first attempts at asserting yourself have been unsuccessful, then you may need to escalate the matter.

    • Be more firm and explain what will happen if your expectations are not met. Follow up and hold that person or team accountable.

    • Remember, being firm does not mean getting mean and nasty.

    • For example: "Jacqueline, this is the third time this week I've had to speak to you about arriving late. If you're late once more this month, I will activate the disciplinary process."


  • Change Your Verbs

    • Try using verbs that are definite and emphatic when you communicate.

    • To do this, use verbs like "will" instead of "could" or "should," "want" instead of "need," and "choose to" instead of "have to."

    • For example: "I will be going on vacation next week, so I will need someone to cover my workload."

      • A passive leader might say:

      • “I want to go on vacation next week, so I could use someone’s help in covering my workload.”



Q: Can you think of a time where you have used either weak or assertive language? Did you see the results you wanted after that conversation? Why do you think people shy away from using assertive language?

Application Activities

  1. Confidence is an important part of being assertive. Consider what makes you feel confident. What do you like about yourself? What are your goals? How are those goals helpful to other people? How do you prepare to make decisions? Answering these questions should help you understand your own value and appreciate the work that you are already putting in to make the best decisions possible for your team. If there is something about yourself that keeps you from feeling confident, talk it out with a mentor or close friend.

  2. If you have a weekly meeting with a trusted colleague, ask if you can record the conversation for your personal reference. After the conversation, examine your language. Did you use phrases that were direct? Or did you struggle to articulate what you wanted? Did you speak in the “I” statements Jeff mentioned in the podcast? Or did you pass responsibility for a decision on to someone else? Use the recording to reflect on how you did and strategize for the next conversation you have.

  3. How well do you hold your team accountable? Survey your team to find out if there are any projects you initiated that were never completed. Is everyone coming to meetings on time? Are any of your standards slipping? Look for areas where you can practice being assertive by holding people accountable. If need be, familiarize yourself with the employee handbook and disciplinary procedures.

Connect with Jeff

Instagram: @thechampionforum

Facebook: The Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher

Email: jeffhancher@thechampionforum.com

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