Be Assertive

Type this in a large font, print it out, and stick it the wall of your office:


Once you’re in a leadership role you have a lot of responsibilities. You need to be the voice of reason, speaking up when you hear something that does not sound right. You need to provide feedback and coaching. You have to delegate tasks. You need to set priorities. You have to ask for resources. You have to allocate resources.

What do these have in common? They involve making decisions and communicating. If you aren’t assertive, it’s hard to do either of those.

By “assertive” we don’t mean “aggressive” (also known as “being a jerk”). We are not saying you should yell at your boss, berate your employees, or push your own agenda.

Instead, we mean you should have the self-confidence to state your views and be able to explain them, be stand up for yourself and your employees when you feel someone else is wrong. It’s easy to say “have self-confidence,” of course, but it may be a little harder to have it. Why?

Well, in some cultures, people are told for most of their lives that they should not have self-confidence, or that they should stay quiet rather than speaking up. Perhaps they are young, or don’t have all the “paper qualifications” they have been told they should have. Maybe there is a cultural emphasis on avoiding conflict (which, by the way, means the loud-mouthed bully will ALWAYS win) and so they just keep their ideas to themselves. It may be that they have been put into a position beyond their skills, and rather than doing something about it they instead keep quiet.

None of that helps. None of it. A leader who cannot present ideas and speak clearly about what they believe is not really a leader, they are just a person with a title.

So how do you build that confidence? First, look at your skills, and if you don’t have what you need, then find an opportunity to upskill yourself. Alternatively, bring in someone to help you who DOES have the skills. Second, make sure you understand the relationships and networks around you — who reports to whom, who can help you, whom can you help? Third, make sure that when you do make a decision or speak up in a meeting, you have actually thought about the issue rather than just “shooting from the hip.” Finally, remind yourself that if you upset someone, it’s not the end of the world, and if you are demonstrating that you really do know what you’re talking about, people are going to pay more attention to what you say than they will to the person who is upset with you.

Bottom line: be well prepared, and that will help you have the confidence to stand up for your ideas.

Remember, if you cannot stand up for yourself, how will your people ever believe you will stand up for them???