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Many people think assertiveness and aggressiveness are the same quality, but they are mistaken. Aggressiveness is more about making decisions with no concern about how it can impact others, whereas assertiveness is when you ask for what you need, but are willing to make compromises. See the difference?

Assertiveness is actually a pretty important leadership characteristic. According to a study published in an issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, optimal levels of assertiveness play a key role in leadership. In the study, respondents identified assertiveness as one of the major problem areas for colleagues.

Why is assertiveness an issue for some leaders? Well, it doesn’t come naturally for everyone, and some people may fear if they act assertive, it will come across as too aggressive.

However, skillful assertiveness helps strengthen relationships, can reduce stress, and maybe even make you a more effective leader.

Keep in mind that assertiveness is not necessary for every situation you deal with as a leader, but you still need to be comfortable with coming forward in group discussions and not be afraid to express your own opinions. When you haven’t traditionally been assertive as a leader, you may not be as actively involved in your work group as you could be. Perhaps you have held back on making suggestions or offering your opinions about various scenarios.

The authors of that study stated that their research does not suggest leaders should act “moderately assertive” at all times. Instead, they believe leaders need to adopt a style that is flexible and adaptable, utilizing assertiveness depending upon the situation.

The key is to learn how to be assertive, but not aggressive. Here are some tips to remember:

  • Take a course or work with a coach to bolster your confidence in one skill or area at a time. Focus on your strengths, and think of ways you can use your strengths to improve some aspect of your work.


  • Take more risks. Treat any mistakes or failures as chances to learn. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Start small so you can recover more quickly, and then build up to taking larger risks.



  • Build up a performance track record of variety – start up things, fix things, innovate, make suggestions.



  • Find a business opportunity and make a reasoned case for it. You need to be seen and heard, but on substance, not fluff.



  • Confront problems instead of avoiding them. Learn to lean into your areas of discomfort to improve your skills and knowledge.



With a little effort on your part, you can learn how to gradually be more assertive.