How to Lead When You’re Not Assertive

 In Career Tips, Leadership

As life and times happen to us, we will at some point assume a role where our skills don’t match the demands of the job. This happens especially to people in management. It’s also the reason why there are so many poor bosses out there. Companies need someone to be in charge of things and many times they will pick the closest warm body to fill the role.

Generally speaking, when a person is selected to manage (or for that matter selected to any new position) they have demonstrated some skills which suggest they can do the job. At the same time, there are new skills to acquire. We rarely come to a job knowing everything or having amassed all of the skills the position requires. You always have things to learn.

Assertiveness is a required skill in management, yet it is a tricky one to consider developing if you don’t possess it. The reason it is a tricky skill to develop is because it is so intimately linked to our personality driven by years of reinforced belief about how we should act. It’s a ‘soft skill’ and developing it isn’t like learning to budget. As well, assertiveness contains elements of aggressiveness; and let’s face it, if that isn’t you, learning assertiveness will be a challenge. Does this mean you are doomed to failure as a manager? No, but you need to be deliberate about your learning strategy.

Here are six tips for developing your assertiveness:

  1. Communicate. The first thing to understand is that assertiveness isn’t about being in someone’s face, nor is it about talking a lot. Assertiveness is about you voicing your opinion and giving others information. In the business setting, especially as a manager, this means people need to hear your opinions, direction and insight on a whole host of things. When you don’t do that, you aren’t helping others. People look for you to lead and part of leading is communicating.
  2. Give direction. If you can’t assert direction, soon people will tend to lose respect and the next thing you will experience is they will push you around. Humans are funny creatures. We almost can’t help the tendency to ‘take over’ when other people aren’t. The form of take over can vary widely from behind the scenes jokes about you to open hostility with refusals to do your assignments. Once you’ve lost respect, gaining it will require twice as much effort on your behalf.
  3. Demonstrate trust. Don’t confuse hovering and over management for assertion. Your people will resent you because it signals a lack of trust.
  4. Be engaged. You are changing behaviors, so you have to look for opportunities to inject yourself even when you see very little reason to do so. One thought process that drives the lack of this skill is that when there are opinions you agree with or other people are saying things that represent your thoughts, you say nothing. Speak up! Even if you’re repeating what’s been said, the group needs to hear it from you.
  5. Keep practicing. Because you are changing behaviors, you have to be conscious of when and how you do this. Practice and repetition are the only way you will make the change. You might ask a trusted mentor to give you feedback to help you through this skill-building phase.
  6. Commit to the new job requirement. One reason people lack this skill is that the thought of voicing things publicly or confronting a person makes them cringe with discomfort. Generally, you view this behavior as negatively impacting others. You need to understand that this is part of the job. You aren’t always going to be popular. Assertiveness comes with the job. Time for an attitude adjustment. If you practice and know you are practicing, it will get easier.

If you lack assertiveness, learn the skill. Even if you are never destined to be in management, it is a skill that will help you in both life and work.

For more career tips and advice – FREE newsletter and eworkbook:  From Dorothy Tannahill-Moran – Your Career Change Agent from and  And check out Dorothy’s new book, “Career Mapping for Climbing Managers – Planning Your Career On Purpose”. You can find the book in print or Kindle on Amazon.

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