Assertiveness is a trait that has become closely associated with strong, effective leadership. Great leaders are expected to forge pathways, create direction, and lead teams with individuals whose personalities may vary greatly—all efforts that could be bolstered with a traditionally driving style. However, while effective leaders must produce in this manner, the ability to vary assertiveness to accomplish all the necessary factors of leadership—from empathic listening to ideation to setting a vision—has been shown time and time again as a necessary quality.
Great leaders can perform without relying on driving tendencies—these leaders are the peacekeepers.
They create direction and pathways not through direct force, or power of personality, but rather by leveraging the respect and relationships that they have built with their staff. Leadership, in this case, comes through openness to employee ideas and consideration of the issues they face. Even those leaders who rarely exhibit forceful assertiveness can foster innovation, lead teams through conflict, and provide actionable goals effectively (just as effectively as more assertive leaders); they simply do so in a different way.
Different styles of leadership have their own advantages and disadvantages. In reality, disadvantageous issues become exaggerated when leaders are on the extremes of the assertiveness spectrum. This study from Columbia University shows how extremely assertive leaders (what we call third-third Assertiveness) can often create stressful environments, alienate their staff, and generally be seen as annoying and insufferable. At the same time, extremely amiable leaders (those with first-third Assertiveness) tend to have issues with goal completion and staff motivation.
The goal in becoming an effective leader, therefore, is to realize strengths and tendencies in your behavioral profile—including your Expressiveness and Flexibility, in addition to Assertiveness—in order to best capitalize on your natural proclivities and know when to pivot. Knowing where you stand as a leader, particularly on the Assertiveness spectrum, is the first step in formulating a baseline to change your level of assertiveness according to the challenges you face. This, of course, does not mean it will be necessary or even desirable to step out of your behavioral comfort zone in many situations.
So how can Peacekeeping leaders optimize their natural Assertiveness to become better leaders? It’s a unique behavioral toolkit at their disposal that can create a new way to view necessary elements of running teams and organizations:
Fostering Innovation: While innovation-oriented leaders are often pictured as traditionally assertive individuals with large personalities (Steve Jobs), a peacekeeping leader can do just as well. Instead of controlling the direction of innovation, peacekeeping leaders can help their teams to develop their own ideas, and then create a framework for synthesizing these ideas into an actionable plan that will meet organizational goals.
Creating a strong direction: Peacekeeping leaders can motivate and direct their staff by engaging them in the task at hand in a way that will make them personally latch onto the goals they are seeking to accomplish. These leaders can foster a sense of loyalty and dedication in accomplishing goals – not because they have to (although they do) but rather because completion of these goals is important to all members of the work team.
Resolving team conflict: While a driving leader may seek to ‘lay down the law’ in the face of interpersonal conflicts, a peacekeeping leader does just this: she keeps the peace. This leader is able to listen thoroughly to the issues at hand and provide a reasonable and fair solution that best satisfies all parties involved and moves the organization forward. Such a leader is able to make and implement effective decisions without a driving personality because her solutions are well-thought-out to appeal to everyone involved. And if she has a history of making such decisions, she is most likely highly respected by her staff.
Leadership can come from any personality or behavioral type. The key is to know who you are, understand those you work with, and play your innate strengths to your advantage while remaining aware of your goals and the environment around you.